South Africa 2004

JULY 2004

I recently returned from South Africa. Hunted the LIMPOPO PROVINCE, which is the northern bulge of South Africa up against the Limpopo river, in the Waterberg mountains, with INAFRICA SAFARIS, which is the brainchild of BOER AND KAN COETZEE. (

i went for several reasons. One was to get away from ordinary life and have a good time. Another was to prove a couple of concepts that I have been experimenting with over the past few years. There is no place like the field to prove that something works, or doesn’t. My friend Randy Smith came along. He had been wanting the Africa experience for years.

I had spent several years developing a new primer for locked breech designs, like my ThunderBolt. It has been long apparent that the 209 is not the final answer to muzzleloading ignition. I wanted to be able to interchange the required new breechplug with the older basic short White breechplug design. I thought I had the answer with my new 336 primer but needed to prove it in the field. It uses a short thin-walled rimmed brass case and a small pistol primer, which looks strangely like a 32 S&W (Short). It’s re-loadable if you want.

I also have been experimenting with smokeless powder in the ThunderBolt, but have remained unconvinced that it was safe for general use in the field, where things can get decidedly exciting and/or confusing at times.

I also wanted to see just how effective the 45/40-350 PowerStar bullet (451 caliber White lubricated sabot, 40 caliber hollow pointed lead bullet weighing 350 grains) was on tough African game, keeping in mind that competing 45 cal rifles use saboted bullets weighing 150-200 grains, rather than the 350 of the 45/40-350. BC of this bullet is .33.

T-Bolt45CarbonCompDocsHere’s an advanced concept in purely hunting rifles. This stainless steel Thunderbolt has not only a carbon fiber barrel by Christiansen but also a fiber composite stock by Bell & Carlson. The combination weighs right at 5.5 lbs. You would think that the recoil would be fierce but it isn’t, recoil feels sort of funny, almost wobbly, sort of soft and easy. This is the rifle my son David used fall 2001 to kill a big 6 point elk on video. The rifle is 451 caliber, he used 70 grains of Pyrodex Select and a 460 grain bullet with a Remington 209-4 primer. The hit was at about 80 yards with complete penetration of the chest. The video shows gobs of blood and lung blowing out the other side with the shot. The bull didn’t go 6 feet. 70 grains doesn’t sound like much but it is far more effective than normally expected because of the Thunderbolt’s design and engineering. This is the rifle I used in Africa.

I developed a 1600 FPS load for my Christensen barreled Thunderbolt in .451 caliber, comprising 30 grains of 5744 smokeless assembled into White Quickchargers with the 45/40-350 bullet. I carried these in a pocket. I carried the 336 primers in another pocket. (hadn’t been smart enough to develop a priming tool for the primer- meant to, but did not get to it) The load shoots into an inch at 100 yards ands never requires cleaning- ie no plastic fouling in the barrel, at least over dozens of shots.

The pictures that follow illustrate what happened. (I am going to leave Randy’s kills and observations for him to write- he does it quite well)

BLESBOK- There were Blesbok all over the place, by far the most available animal in this neck of the woods. The problem was finding a big one among all the smaller animals. They ran in great herds, sometimes over 100 animals to a bunch, so the hunt was spot and stalk. They kept to the open fields and were hard to approach. We finally spotted the buck you see here, then spent all morning trying to catch him away from the herd and get close enough when he was. We finally had to leave the thoroughly spooked herd and come back later. This time it worked, they had settled down and I took the shot in the open field seen here, range about 125 yards. I was lucky and hit the heart with complete penetration side to side. The animal went 30 feet after the hit.

GEMSBOK- We spent a day hunting Gemsbok. Randy had killed a really nice one a few days before. We finally found two of them buddied up with some wildebeest and zebra. There were many eyes in the brush. I finally got a lucky break in the near evening after a long and exciting/frustrating stalk through very heavy brush. I had to thread the shot offhand through a series of tiny openings in the brush at 70-80 yards. There was just nothing to lean on to steady the shot. All I could see was a small area of the chest with the outline of the bull’s head above the heavier brush. The 350 grain bullet flew through all those tree limbs, grass and brush to hit the gemsbok through the fore-shoulder, angling back through the top of the heart, in and out, with a big blood trail. Despite that, this tough critter went 100 yards or so before going down. Unfortunately, I mistook the smaller of the two for the bigger one, my mistake as much as the guide’s. We were both pretty hyped at the time. It was an exciting hunt. I have nothing to complain about. Maybe someday I can go back after a truly big one.

NYALA- This was one of those last minute things that happen when least expected. Nyala are considered a rare trophy here. We came across one early in the hunt, but I hesitated long enough to lose it. I had not seriously considered getting one because of the cost and scarcity. After a day of thinking about it, I realized how foolish the hesitation had been, coming half way around the world to hunt then passing on a rare critter, so decided that the next one we saw would be mine. Naturally, we didn’t see another one during the hunt until the last day. I had decided to hunt waterbuck the last morning and we were cruising the waterbuck country when the Nyala bull showed up. Again, there was lots of heavy brush, and I took another offhand shot, this time at 70 yards, only because of the hurry of dismounting from the hunting car and getting set up for the shot. The bullet entered the right rear ribs, angled to the opposite shoulder, which it mushed up pretty well but did not exit. It cut the dorsal aorta in half in passing. The bull went 30 yards before crashing. I was absolutely thrilled, an emotion I had forgotten all about.

AfricaDocBlackWildebest0001STEINBOC- We were cruising a swampy area just at dusk when this little Steinbok showed up in tall Buffalo Grass. It was a lucky find as the Africaaners usually hunt these at night with a spotlight. I had about a 40 yard shot. I had to remember to hold low because of the trajectory of the scope sighted rifle. This was one range that I admit I had not practiced at. I was lucky not to blow the animal apart. By the way, those are BIG horns, they tell me.

BLACK WILDEBEST- I killed a blue wildebeest back in ’94 in Zimbabwe, using a 600 grain bullet in a Super 91 at 200 yards plus. I had been wanting the black kind ever since. They are so elegantly ugly. We found a big herd out in the open savanna. Like all wildebeest, they were acting crazy, stopping for a few moments to graze then suddenly dashing off. A few minutes later, they would come dashing back, tails thrashing the air. We couldn’t get any closer than about 180 yards, Along towards evening, I finally decided to hazard a shot. The wind was gusting from the left. The rifle was sighted in at 130 yards, so I figured in a 14 inch drop with the 1600 FPS load. I put the horizontal crosshair across his back, and the vertical 4 inches to the left of the shoulder joint, trying for a hit on the point of the fore-shoulder, as he was quartering towards me. The bullet drifted further right than expected, hit the front of the chest and blew into the opposite shoulder, which it destroyed. It only bruised the lung. The bull bled out over the next few hours. We followed a long blood trail, only to have to give it up after dark fell. We found him dead the next morning within several hundred yards of where we gave up the trail the night before. See what you get for not carrying a flashlight. Well, maybe not, the Africaaners intensley dislike following up blood spoor after dark. You never know what might jump out at you, so they say.

KUDU (KOODOO) I missed getting a Kudu in Zimbabwe ten years ago, largely because we were making videos and not hunting, to my great disgust. Wrote an article about it, called ‘Let’s kill Roger Raglan’ (he was doing the video, a copy of the tongue-in-cheek-article can be found below). Saw some big ones too. Here, we hunted Kudu on the second day in camp and were into them that morning early. There were several small herds around. They not only look a little like elk, but they act like them too. They love the deep brush and can jump like whitetail. We searched through several herds before finding this big bull. I could see his rear left rib cage at 100+ yards, and took the shot, using the guides tall set of cross-sticks, the bullet taking him in the left rear ribs and quartering through left rear and right front lung into the opposite shoulder. The bullet did not exit. The bull crashed through the brush for 100 yards then promptly laid down. He left a good blood trail that even I could follow. After a few minutes, we jumped him up, he wasn’t going anywhere fast, and I got a second shot into the chest behind the right elbow, after which he ran three jumps and went down. Eon, the guide, insisted on a third shot through the spine to anchor him. None of the bullets went all the way through. This animal is the size of a bull elk and every bit an graceful. He’s not huge, just an average bull near 50 inches around the curves, but I like him.

serv015RED HARTEBEST- This tough, sturdy animal is a champ. He’s ugly as your aunt Maysie with her hair on end, and as fast on his feet as Muhummad Ali. They get up to speed so fast it’s amazing, like a Ferrarri doing the 1/4 mile in 4 seconds. They run mostly in the brush, but are not a bit afraid to take a run out in the open. We caught this big bull transitioning from one brush patch to another. We followed him long enough to see him separate from the herd so I could get a shot without hitting anything else. I ended up with a 120 yard shot from a good rest, aimed at and took him on the point of the shoulder, the bullet breaking him down then crossing the chest and lungs into the rear ribs and liver. He stumbled 30 yards after the hit, and was dead when we got to him. The bullet did not exit but the internal destruction was impressive. They say this bull is a big one. Randy Smith killed one that I think is even bigger.

Randy Smith & Gemsbok, the best trophy of the trip. 140 yard shot with 504 cal White Super-91 loaded with 100 grains of Pyrodex RS and 45 caliber 435 grain saboted hollow point PowerStar bullet.


My conclusions: Hunting in Africa is every bit as exciting and challenging as anywhere else, and on average is cheaper per animal then anywhere else. There is no public hunting land except for a few concessions near Game Reserves or Parks. Everything has a fence around it, but the fences are few and far between. It took a half hour on a good road to get from one end to the other of this hunting ranch. There were 26 species of game animals here as well. The hunting is perfect for the muzzleloading hunter. (We need to do a hunting school there) The ranges selected were well within the muzzleloading envelope, but it took some effort and extra time to get that close. The guides were extremely accomodating. When Randy specified he didn’t want any more than a 100 yard shot, Eon made sure he got it, (except for the 140 yard shot on that beautiful big gemsbok pictured above, he just couldn’t help himself on that one, and surprised himself when he did it right.)

The 45/40-350 PowerStar proved to be a suberb big game bullet capable of killing any animal up to elk size with good bullet placement. It did not exit the Kudo , Nyala or Red Hartebeest, but did all the other animals. Blood trails were impressive, even on, or better, especially on, the wildebeest, the bullet blowing the shoulder joint apart and slashing the humeral artery to bits. Blood loss alone from the gaping wound was sufficient for a kill in this case.

The new 336 Primer worked great, was quick to load, easy to extract, surefire, easy to handle (being slightly larger than the 209) and completely locked out blowback. I never used the extractor that I designed and carried, (a fingernail sufficed for extraction), but would have been faster on the reload with the priming tool that I should have designed.

I liked the smokeless because I never had to clean the rifle and the saboted bullet loaded easily without grimy powder residues, but remain tongue-in-cheek about its general use for the average hunter. I had no trouble, having developed a relatively low pressure 1600 FPS load, but found myself double checking with the ramrod to make sure the load column was correct several times a day. Obviously I was nervous about it. Just because I did it safely is no excuse for you to try it.

Because of liability issues I have to recommend that you should not try to duplicate my experience with smokeless powder.

Because of the same liability issues, the White company does not recommend the use of smokeless in their rifles and you void all your guarantees if you do, so don’t follow my example.

Anyway, if you want a great muzzleloading experience, take on Africa. Take a White rifle with you. You won’t regret it.

Good hunting. DOC