The air was cool, the early morning still, a crow calling far in the distance. The leaves underfoot were thick with dew, making walking easier and quieter than usual. I was easing along slowly, taking a step or two, then stopping to look and listen. I really didn’t know what I was looking for. I’d seen Nilgai only in pictures. The ‘gray ghost’ they called hem down in Texas. “Spooky and hard to find,” was what Tom called them, cussing under his breath. Also, ” tough and hardy, takes a .375 to bring one down,” he said, “and more often than not, more than one shot in the vitals.” He wondered what I thought I was doing, hunting one with a pistol, and a muzzleloading pistol to boot.
Well, at least my pistol was as good as muzzleloading pistols get. I’d made it from a White, White Lightning rifle, a rifle that I had designed. Somebody short-started a bullet, forgot the ramrod and bulged the barrel of one and traded it back in for a new one. I’d cut the .504 caliber barrel back to 10 inches, crowned it and mounted it in a hard maple stock . It came out about the size and weight of a T/C Contender pistol. I called it the BobCat. I mounted a short red dot scope on it and loaded it with 80 grains of Hodgden’s Pyrodex P and my patented Super Sabot with 435 grain hollow pointed lead SuperStar bullet. The combination turned just less than 1000 ft sec on my chronograph and shot into 2 inches at 50 yards on target. Not quite .375 ballistics but better than a lot of production cartridge pistols.
Now I was slow stalking down a creek bed in Missouri. Tom said he’d last seen the Nilgai, two of then, in this area of his game ranch. He claimed they were real ghosts in the woods. “Hard to see, silent on the move, but moving like lightening when they do.” he said. “Good eyes and ears too. Hard to get the upper hand on.” Best way to hunt then was to slow stalk, moving quietly and slowly enough that you saw then before they detected you.”Mornings usually best” he said, “when they were attempting to feed”. Well, I’d been at this two days now, covering about 800 yards a day in the thick Missouri woods, about 100 yards an hour. Tom thought that might be too fast.
Now it was getting along towards evening. I’d been out here all day, straining eyes and ears to see or hear something, anything out of the ordinary. Tom would be along soon to pick me up. I could glimpse the edge of the trees where he would be waiting about 100 yards to my front. Lucky, the leaves on the trees were just budding out. In another two weeks , the leaves would make the timber into a jungle and the Nilgai would disappear for the summer.
You know how you get careless at the end of the day. Tired legs, tired eyes, back hurts, can’t keep focused on the hunt for the growling in your gut. Just at that moment of inattention, something gray moves in front of me. I can’t see them clearly, but there seem to be two and they appear to have legs and heads with spiky horns jutting out on top. Nilgai!. Where did they come from? Were they lying up in their beds, or had they wandered into me? The trees are so thick, oak so close together and jumbled that I can’t see them clearly. There’s no shot here. And they are twisting their heads around to look right at me.
I step a little to the left to open up a space through the trees. A twig snaps underfoot. Damn!! There they go, hind quarters hunkering down like a quarter horse, heads up and noses forward, almost like an elk, bursting into a run within one jump. Running smack into-Tom, who is standing just at the edge of the trees.
“Doc”, he squeals at me, dashing around behind a tree. I’d seen him do the same thing when a hog was chasing him. The Nilgai screech to a halt, whirl around and come blasting back through the trees right at me.
They’re going to pass me at about 25 yards, moving at a low-bellied run. I try to pick the one with the biggest horns but damned if I can tell the difference. Not at that speed, trees flashing past like lights on the runway at takeoff. All I can do is pick the one in the clear, swing with him and loose a shot, the red dot a foot in front of the chest.
The pistol bucks back. I don’t even feel it. The powder smoke blows through the trees. Tom bellows behind me, he always gets so damn excited. Galloping footsteps recede in the distance, except there’s only one galloper. The other is on the ground, about 40 yards away, not even kicking.
Doc and Nilgai with “Bobcat” muzzleloading pistol. The pistol is the size of a T/C Contender. Load is 80 grains of Pyrodex P and the White 50/45-435 saboted PowerStar. Velocity is just short of 1000 FPS and energy?- well, enough to kill a big, tough critter with a single shot.
“Load up, load up,” screams Tom, “he’s going to get up on you.” But no, the animal is down for good. Not even a wiggle. I load anyway, using the pre-measured speed loaders in my pocket and get a load down and a cap on in about 20 seconds. I’m shaky and slow. We walk up carefully, circling around to the rear. I’d hate to get a gut full of horn from this critter. He’s big and thick in the forequarters with a stout muscled neck, like a weightlifter. The horns are 9 or 10 inches long and look like a pair of daggers on his head.
Tom checks out the killing wound. He wonders out loud how a muzzleloading pistol killed one so easily when big rifles take two or three shots. He comments on the exit wound, right over the heart and about 2 inches big. Shakes his head in wonder. Says he’s going to try a muzzleloader on leopard this next summer, but he’ll take a rifle, not a popgun like mine.
Well popgun or not, the Nilgai is in the record book. Not way up there but at least there. Measured about 9 inches in the horn. Not bad for a popgun. Especially not bad for a muzzleloading popgun.