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Handgun Hunting by
Lee Jurras and George Nonte
When you’ve hunted with all manner of handguns for a wide variety of American, European, and Near Eastern game, your thoughts will naturally turn toward Africa. The Dark Continent possesses a mystique and allure all its own, and it’s doubtful that any hunter has ever considered its profusion of game without at least some yearning.
I’d done those other things, but had never seriously considered an African handgun hunt until after Lee Jurras returned from his Botswana pistol safari in 1970. I’d thought about handgunning some African species (but not the big ones), and had even once looked for a likely lion while carrying a .357 magnum in my belt. But that was while Val Forgett and I were hunting in Tanzania with muzzle-loading rifles, and the idea of using my .357 on a lion was at that time just a passing thought. Later, after seeing more of African hunting conditions, I became convinced that much game there was just as well within expert handgun capabilities as most North American species. In short, I agreed with Jurras that with a little modification of African hunting methods, it would be possible to take any species the continent had to offer except elephant, rhino, and possibly Cape buffalo and hippo. Assuming one worked as a hunter rather than just a shooter, and used proper guns and loads, and other species seemed no more difficult or dangerous than the bear, elk, and big cats of our own country.
So when Jurras proposed I join him on his second handgun safari to South Africa, I accepted with alacrity, disregarding the fact that my wallet couldn’t really stand the price of a round-trip ticket to Port Elizabeth, R.S.A. After all, Lee had taken 13 head of African game with a sixgun on his 1970 trip, and I couldn’t allow him to get too far ahead of me.
We planned to take a pair of the then-new Auto Mag pistols in .357 AMP and .44 AMP. Both combinations exceed by far the velocity and energy that can be safely obtained from contemporary revolvers, and the hunt was to be another field test for the guns and ammunition. After much experimentation we’d established standard loads for both guns. As insurance – more against mechanical failure than anything else – I also took along a pair of S&W Magnum revolvers with 8 3/8-inch barrels – one M29 .44 Magnum and one M57 .41 Magnum. As it turned out, these guns proved invaluable to the early part of the hunt. The sixguns – and ammunition packed with them – arrived in R.S.A. promptly in good shape, right along with my other baggage. Not so the Auto Mags, which were misplaced by the airlines (along with Jurras’ other baggage) and showed up several days late. Unfortunately, no ammunition was packed with them. It had been shipped separately and earlier, and didn’t arrive until nearly 10 days after the hunt was to have started. Consequently, the Smith & Wesson Magnums received a good workout.
We were to be the guests of Wyn Goosen and Rory Reider, and they’d promised us all the plains game we wanted. And so it was that we found ourselves afield in a new country, with arms and ammunition the local hunters considered more than passing strange. It wasn’t that they doubted the ability of the big, heavy pistols to kill game but that they didn’t really believe handguns could be shot with the necessary accuracy at ranges of more than a few yards. We were both able to show that the accuracy is there if you learn to use it. Checking guns (and our ability with them) before going after Blesbok on C.T. Van Schalkwyk’s holdings, Jurras placed his first .44 Magnum shot on a beer can at just under 100 yards. My showing wasn’t that impressive but was adequate.
Blesbok gave us a runaround that day, and though shots were offered, they were all running flat-out, and we missed. Blesbok are faster than they seem until you’ve observed them a while. Hidden in brush and rock outcroppings on the rather barren high veldt, we could only take potluck on moving small heads that occasionally came within range (which we considered to be 100 yards at the outside). Eventually, though, after moving to a better hide, I gambled a bit on a slow-walking Blesbok at about 125 yards, two-handed the gun over my raised knees, held a bit high, and touched off the long-barreled .41 Magnum – and beseeched the god of hunters a bit.
The "thwock" of a striking bullet drifted back, and the animal went down, hit just behind the diaphragm, then lurched to its feet and stayed with the herd, which spooked and galloped full tilt directly toward my rocks and brush.
I tried a couple of shots when the wounded animal was running in the clear, to no avail, then decided to hold off so long as the herd came my way. At about 60 yards they crossed a dry wash, finally spotted me (I think) and veered sharply to my left. For a second or two the already-hit animal was broadside and in the clear, and the big gun thundered almost of its own volition. Neck broken, the Blesbok somersaulted to earth. Not a very big one, but the first trophy I’d taken in Africa with a handgun.
Another day on Van Schalkwyk’s holdings, we were spotted a bit differently. Jurras waited patiently most of the day, with lots of Blesbok in sight, including some very nice heads. But he was never offered anything but impossibly long shots or running shots nearly as far. Had he been using a high-velocity rifle he could have taken a good 16-inch or better head within the first hour, and probably others as the day wore on. The difference between rifle and handgun hunting became very evident to all concerned. Limited to the shorter range of a shortgun, he had to wait the bucks out, since a stalk was impossible over the bare, rocky ground. Of course, the difficulties – including the range limitations – are what make handgun hunting such an exciting challenge, but there are times when those difficulties mount to the point of frustration and really test a hunter’s patience and determination.
In the meantime, at one point I divested myself of gun and glasses and was photographing some out-of-range game. Suddenly, a small herd of light-footed Blesbok came upon me from the rear, and halted stock-still. Much chagrined, I looked hungrily at the 16 1/2 – inch or better ram up front, a bare 25 yards away, while my gun lay out of reach a few paces off. When I moved, they moved, and were long gone before a shot could be taken. My tactical error was offset later, and I got the same (we think) animal.
By then, I’d moved a half-mile or so and was again well hidden in rocks and scrub near where a game trail crossed a small weedy bog. We’d seen five nice Blesbok rams a mile away, apparently headed for that spot. Van and I had then moved to the new hide to await their arrival. Arrive they did, shortly, coming across the bog, passing into my sights only after reaching solid ground. Having crossed slowly, they then broke into a trot before I could get a shot. To have fired earlier would have meant moving and we’d have certainly been seen.
Anyway, at about 85 yards I put the sights on the biggest ram’s nose and touched off a shot. He stumbled, hit too far back (not enough lead) and broke into a run. Frantically I fired again, missed clean (over his shoulders) and then tried again. At the third shot there was a hell of a "crack" instead of the dull "thwock" a bullet makes when it hits meat. The ram stumbled again, shook his head, and disappeared around a rock outcropping. I’d hit him in the horns! The .41 bullet punched straight through the near horn and chipped the other. We trailed him a few hundred yards to where he’d gone down, and the .41 Magnum finished him off.
Eventually Jurrus shifted, hoping to take better advantage of the movements of the game, again half-hidden in a tiny, rocky copse. Here, too, a good rifle would have secured his trophy quickly, but the handgunner compensates for the limitations of his equipment with infinite patience and caution. Seemingly countless times he was tempted by acceptable heads beyond certain killing range. Knowing he had made clean kills back in the U.S. at ranges over 200 yards made it all the harder to hold back when similar opportunities were presented. But patience does sometimes have its reward, and eventually a fine ram drifted nearly within the 100-yard limit.
As Jurras prepared for the shot, easing the big gun into position, something – who knows what – spooked the ram. He launched himself full tilt diagonally across the line of fire, and when he passed the hide at about 80 yards, Jurras touched off a shot as the sights swung past the ram’s nose. Nothing more was needed. The hollow-point bullet smashed through the neck to ricochet howling off the earth, and the ram slid to a halt on his nose, the ivory-like tips of his 16 ˝ inch horns gleaming in the South African sunlight. First success on a new hunt in new country is always a bit momentous, so it was time to put the guns away for the day, retire to the distant Toyota, and toast our hosts in amber Scotch from a bottle carefully packed for just such an occasion.
With Lee’s fine kill and my second (accomplished less neatly with more shots), our several hosts became convinced that there is a place for handguns in the type of hunting they enjoy in the vast rolling veldt. Accustomed to the handgun as a point-and-shoot weapon for plinking and self-defense, they saw it now in a new light, as a precision arm within its range limitations. Consequently, they were ready to take us after more species and without so much concern.
And so they did. We covered hundreds of miles in a fan north and west of Port Elizabeth. We took Impala, Springbok, Redbok, Bushbok and numerous other species, from rock rabbit upward. There were good days and bad days, good shots and bad shots – but the best of all occurred on the last day, almost in the last hour, when Jurras jumped a fine brown Bushbok in midday and neatly broke its neck with his .357 Auto Mag as it hurtled toward cover 125 yards away. What magnificent fireplace memories are made of shots like that, and places like South Africa!