Once is never enough

The Big Game Rifle Club of Victoria goes to South Africa

Sam Garro 

Many a hunter at some stage has had an aspiration or experienced a yearning to hunt medium to big game such as wild boar or the Asiatic water buffalo in Australia’s Top End.

Venturing abroad could mean Africa’s tough plains game like kudu, oryx, wildebeest and Cape buffalo to name a few. Or you could go to British Columbia for mountain goat, caribou and elk, New Zealand for chamois and tahr, even Mongolia or Tajikistan for the ibex or Marco Polo ram, if the pocket allows.

Then by chance, a medium to big bore game rifle is crossed in a store, website or through a mate who has already experienced the elation and excitement of such a hunt, and the mind starts to go into overdrive, pondering the decision whether to buy or not. At times the thought, possibly due to domestic or financial reasons, or the allure to own that particular firearm becomes overwhelming. So shortly afterwards it ends up carefully tucked away in your safe.

With a bit of planning and luck your dream safari hunt is fulfilled. After that once in a lifetime trip, the firearm, be it a .300WM, .375 H&H, .416 Rigby, .505 Gibbs or other calibre rifle, sits in the safe receiving the periodical oiling and wipe down but sees no further action or the light of day. For some, it isn’t even used as the owner still muses on a trip that may or may not eventuate, so again the rifle sits idle.

The SSAA and Big Game Rifle Club (BGRC) ranges at Eagle Park, Little River, Victoria provide the facilities and amenities for licensed firearm owners to sight-in rifles, participate or compete in shooting events as well as attend safety and related courses. It offers an opportunity to resurrect those dormant rifles from the safe and use them, even if you are shooting at paper targets. Practice is never a wasted exercise, particularly if you have intentions of pursuing game down the track.

Many BGRC members are passionate, proud owners of various big game rifles, including blackpowder rifles and doubles, for sole use at the club’s monthly shoot and at scheduled interstate or overseas international BGRC shoots. Some, due to work constraints and or family commitments, simply can’t spend time away on a hunt, even for a couple of days. So attendance at the range once a month or when they can delivers the outlet and opportunity to use their firearm. While some have not been on a safari or similar hunt, under the right circumstances they would most likely give it due consideration. So you can see you are not alone in this regard.

Early in 2018, a representative member group started initial discussions to attend the International Big Game Rifle Shoot that September in Donkerhoek, Pretoria. In the past they have been held at Bisley, England in 2010, Donkerhoek in 2012, our own Little River in 2014 and again at Bisley in 2016.

The International Big Game Rifle Shoot was scheduled to be held on September 15, 2018. The South Africans organising the event coordinated with the Bigbore Association of Southern Africa (BASA) to hold a major competition the week before on September 8, as an ‘eye-opener’.

The BGRC Vic Committee felt that it would be a missed opportunity to go all the way to Africa to just shoot targets and not also encompass some hunting. The feasibility of incorporating tailored safari hunts respective to the individual’s budget and preference was seen as viable, because everyone has a different take and preference on what they would like to hunt, see and experience. It would also be important to ensure the accommodation met the required standards and activities appropriate for the spouses who would be accompanying the members.

Ian Head, BGRC Vic member and owner of the long-standing World Safari Xpeditions (WSX), spoke with interested members about putting together a number of hunting packages for those heading over to South Africa. These hunts were to be in South Africa and Zimbabwe. Ian and WSX have assisted many Australians over the years with guided hunts in Australia, New Zealand, South America, Canada and Africa.

When the number of attendees eventually came through there were a firm 26 participants who wanted to head over to South Africa. In total there were 24 from Victoria with 15 involved in one or both of the competitions, and keen to also do some hunting. In addition there were two from Queensland. Ian accepted the challenge knowing that for it to work would take some doing, involve stressful moments and effort to come up with a group package acceptable to all. He eventually came through to everyone’s satisfaction. BGRC Vic members hunted and toured in various parts of South Africa, as well as Zimbabwe. With the sign up, the rest is history. All safely went and returned together with their belongings and firearms. A logistical achievement in itself!

Everyone was back in the first week of October. They all had a great and memorable experience, even one couple that had some trepidation beforehand. The animals, sights, sounds, scenery and people, plus all the other attractions Africa had on offer, met or surpassed their expectations. Those who hunted plains game or larger game such as the impressively tough and bulky Cape buffalo were delighted, not only with the adventure, but especially with the warm hospitality imparted by the hosts. Their only regret was they couldn’t stay longer but the thought of returning remains uppermost in their minds.

In a couple of standout moments, Bob Christopher was delighted when he downed a Cape buffalo with his William Beattie 8-Bore hammer S/S underlever double blackpowder rifle using a 1125gr projectile at 1200fps. Another member David Schereck was speechless when he won first prize in the raffle held at the International Shoot, a Verney-Carron .500 NE Double. It was presented to David by Jerome Lanoue, Master Gunsmith in charge at L’Atelier Verney-Carron in France whose visit to fit out shooters in Africa coincided with the event.

Andrew Hepner had also experienced adrenalin pumping big game hunting. He was invited to attend the Dangerous Game Shoot near Pretoria by South African hunters Bryan Betton, Richard Eales and Stefan Fouche. These receptive gentlemen had previously also attended the 2014 Eagle Park and 2016 Bisley shoots and had taken on the job of organising and co-ordinating the 2018 International in South Africa.

Those especially that hunted plains game such as impala, blesbok, kudu, oryx and warthog for the first time were grateful for the experience gained and the skills honed at the BGRC, Little River. Photographic and observer safaris were also made easy by virtue of the convenient firearms storage facilities offered in Johannesburg. Visits to places such as Rorke’s Drift where the infamous battle in the Anglo-Zulu War took place, Kruger National Park and Ngala Safari Lodge where the ‘Big Five’ were sighted in their natural environment, plus Phinda Private Game Reserve were all special experiences.

The members’ trophy skulls and mounts are expected to reach Australia by the end of this year. As far as the BASA and International Shoot goes, our members fared well, although it was inferred that their performance was somewhat hindered by the very different style of targets and event format. While the competitiveness remained strong, the comradery and friendship built with the host shooters and those from other countries won out and surpassed any scores. I know when BGRC Victoria hosted the interstate and overseas visitors at Little River, it was one of mutual appreciation and friendship.

BGRC Victoria President Lance Eastwood, thanked all the participants that represented Australia, Ian Head for his achievement in arranging a logistically challenging task, and finally the hosts and friends in South Africa. What do you say at the end of all this? Well, for something that came from a mere idea, and most likely something that would not have eventuated for some or many, “Never Say Never” and don’t leave it to tomorrow, for tomorrow may never come. Besides, life’s too short not to enjoy living a little.

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