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Long Range Africa Safari

A Long-Range African Safari

I’d never paid for a hunt in my life, at least up until a few months ago. I’ve been a die-hard hunter since I was big enough to carry a firearm, but I’ve only hunted small parcels of land owned by family. Over the past 20 years, I’ve spent countless days in the field and have taken a couple nice mule deer and whitetail that were big for my area, but I’d never hunted outside of West Texas.

A friend sold me on the idea of an African safari, and it turned out to be one of the greatest experiences of my life. It was especially rewarding as a long range shooter. Honestly, I didn’t have a clue what to expect in terms of what a safari would look like, what animals I could expect, how outfitters worked, or how much it might cost. But the trip changed my view of hunting, outfitters, and even long range shooting. So I wanted to share my experience with you guys, because I wish someone would have told me about this stuff sooner!

Why Africa?

Last year, I attended Long Range University in Wyoming and Utah (view post). While there, I had the chance to pick the brain of Aaron Davidson, founder of Gunwerks and TV host on Long Range Pursuit. If you’ve seen the TV show, you’ve watched Aaron literally travel the world on one dream hunt after another. So we are worlds apart when it comes to hunting experience.

As I talked to Aaron about long-range shooting, I was very impressed. Not only does he have a ton of real-world experience, but he’s an extremely knowledgeable guy on the technical side of things (not surprising since he’s a Mechanical Engineer). What was especially refreshing was Aaron wasn’t overly dogmatic in his views. When I meet a knowledgeable person who is humble and doesn’t try to pass off their opinions as unquestionable facts, I tend to become more interested in what they think. My experience with Aaron was exactly that.

I eventually asked Aaron what his all-time favorite hunt was. I figured it was a question he got a lot, but he paused for a while as he seemed to run through hundreds of hunts in his head. He told me it was a hard question, because so many hunts were memorable or rewarding in different ways. But he went on to say if he had to boil it down to just one, it’d have to be a kudu hunt he was on in South Africa with John X Safaris. He said “As a die-hard backpacking DIY mountain hunter, I hate to admit that my favorite hunt is a South African safari. For a long range shooter, a 10-day trip can get you 10 years of shooting experience. It truly offers the best training environment I can think of.

Up until that point, the top of my bucket list was hunting red stag in New Zealand. I’d seen an episode of Long Range Pursuit where they went on the hunt I had in mind. Aaron told me there are a lot of cool hunts to go on, but there is something really special about an African safari. He said “You have to do Africa first. I’ll connect you with one of the very best outfitters in South Africa, and I guarantee it will be an experience you’ll never forget.” Remember how earlier I said Aaron wasn’t dogmatic? Until that, I’m not sure I’d heard him speak in absolutes. But after seeing the passion and conviction from such an experienced hunter, I was convinced.

Planning & Getting There

I invited a close friend of mine, Cory Cisco, to join me, and he jumped at the opportunity. Cory is a veteran hunter, and over this past year, he’s joined me for a few PRS club matches and started getting into the whole long range thing. I was already planning to take my family to Kenya on a mission trip this year, so after looking at both of our calendars it looked like October 1st would be the most convenient time. Now if you could pick any time of the year to go, I’m told mid-April through July is the optimal time to go, since that coincides with the rut for many of the animals there. Cory had his first child during that window, but his wife encouraged him to go on “the hunt of lifetime” before they got too busy in this next season of life. (Sounds like she is a keeper!)

Aaron connected us with Carl van Zyl at John X Safaris, and we picked our dates and wired our deposit. Aaron recommended we hunt a full 7 days. He felt anything shorter may feel rushed or you’d wish you’d spent more time when you got there. So that’s what we went with. We flew into Port Elizabeth, South Africa on Oct. 1st, hunted Oct. 2nd-8th, and flew out on Oct. 9th. John X Safaris has many hunting concessions across several countries in Africa, but their home base is called Woodlands Safari Estate and it is located in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, which is just a couple hours northeast of Port Elizabeth.

John X Safaris Home Base in South Africa

Our Hunting Guides (i.e. PH’s)

Ross Stix HooleWe flew into Port Elizabeth, South Africa, where we were greeted by Ross “Stix” Hoole. Stix is a Professional Hunter (PH), which can be thought of as someone who has been professionally trained and certified to be a hunting guide. By the end of our 2 hour car ride to the John X home base, Stix had already earned my respect. I’ve been engrossed in long range rifles at a high level for several years now, so I’ve naturally spent more time learning, reading, and talking about this than most people. Over time, I’ve learn to treasure moments when I can have a deep conversation with someone who is just as excited about topics like rifles, cartridges, and bullets. Stix is a very personable guy, but he’s also very sharp and knows far more than just hunting. For example, we didn’t just talk about the well-known cartridges like 300 Win Mag or 6.5 Creedmoor. Stix told me about a custom 28 Nosler rifle he was having built, and asked me about the 375 Lethal Magnum, which is a very new and even more niche cartridge used for extreme long-range shooting. We also talked bullets and terminal performance, and he shared his wealth of real-world experience. I could already tell I was going to enjoy spending 7 days with Stix.

When we arrived at the facilities we met Ed Wilson, the PH who paired up with Cory for the next 7 days. Ed is a guy that is fun to be around, because he always has you laughing. But, make no mistake; Ed is a serious hunter. Ed is a well-respected PH, who has consistently taken some of the largest kudu and other animals in the Eastern Cape.

The Hunt

Kudu and GemsbuckOkay, on to the hunt! Our PH’s preferred that we start by sharing what animals were on the top of our wish list. I had asked Aaron for advice on this point, and he said the best safari experiences he’d had was when he didn’t fixate too much on one particular animal, but instead was more of an opportunistic hunter. He said that takes a lot of pressure off the PH’s and makes the whole experience more enjoyable for everyone. So we tried to take that perspective, but when pressed for the top animals, Cory and I both were hoping for a big, mature kudu as our #1, and gemsbuck as our #2. We ended up taking 7-8 animals each, but in our eyes, those were the most beautiful and iconic African plains animals, and if we were really honest we’d be disappointed if we didn’t return home with one of each.

The Locations

We hunted a full seven days, and over that time we hunted properties totaling over 100,000 acres. Some of that was low-fence, free range, and some was high fence. I was skeptical that a high fence hunt would be as sporting, but I didn’t understand how different those were in South Africa. Here in Texas, some high fence areas are less than 1,000 acres. But the smallest high fence area we hunted in South Africa was 25,000 acres, which is almost 40 square miles! So you may know there are trophy animals on the property, but good luck finding them!

We hunted from John X Safaris southern and northern concessions, stretching from the coastal region with its valley bushveld all the way to the Great Karoo with its mountains and plains. The terrain varied dramatically. I’m from west Texas, which is big country … but much of the areas we hunted were eerily familiar, with thorny brush and prickly pear cactus. We primarily used a spot and stalk approach, and glassed a lot of country every day. Most days consisted of starting fairly early, crawling in 4×4 vehicles along primitive ranch roads, and hopping out to walk ridgelines or hike through a valley to glass up into thick patches of cover.

The areas we hunted had at least 28 species of game on them, from plains animals to dangerous game like cape buffalo and leopard. One evening a few in our group heard the roars of a lion pride on an adjacent property. Even though all of those animals may coexist in an area, the hunting tactics and approach can vary dramatically depending on which you are after. It was intriguing to learn from the PH’s as we hunted different animals, and they told us about their ideal habitat, and feeding/movement patterns.

Most days we had a specific animal in mind, and we’d spend the majority of the day glassing and hunting that animal. But, our PH’s knew when it might be a waste of time to continue looking for one animal, and we’d switch to another for a couple of hours. For example, during the middle of a hot day, some animals will seek deep shade and stay put while some other plains animals are more acclimated to the heat and are more likely to still be moving. Or while we were glassing we might spot a mature animal that was further down on our wish list, but we might decide to audible and try to get in a position to take a shot.

To give you an idea of what our day-to-day looked like, here is a summary timeline:

African Safari Timeline

This would become a book if I tried to tell you about each of the hunts, but I can tell you they were much tougher than I expected! My watch tracked my activity each day, and I ended up hiking over 50 miles! What’s obvious from the timeline is we spent the majority of our time looking for big kudu. While hunting kudu was time-consuming and very challenging, it turned out to be my all-time favorite hunt.

Kudu bulls are the most majestic animals I’ve ever seen, but they may also be the most elusive. Your best odds to out-smart an old bull is during the rut, but unfortunately that was in June … and we were there in October. I was told by a few veteran Africa hunters that the odds would be stacked against me, because the old bulls are often loners that time of year. Kudu blend perfectly into their surroundings. You may spot a group of them on a hillside grazing, but I found it almost impossible to spot a lone bull standing in the dappled shade of trees. Our PH’s knew mature kudu in October would be a tall order, but they were excited to join us for a challenging hunt.

Kudu in BrushAfter a few days, Cory & Ed, finally spotted a fully mature kudu. Ed got them in a great position, and Cory dropped it with one shot. But to show you how tough these animals are to spot, Cory snapped this photo of his kudu when he walked up to retrieve it. That’s hard to spot a few feet away, much less hundreds of yards away through binoculars! Like I said, kudu blend perfectly into their environment, which is a big part of what makes this such a challenging and rewarding hunt!

By the time we got to our 5th day hunting kudu, Stix and I had seen a lot of bulls. We had taken long looks at a couple of them, which were very close to being fully mature. Stix knew what the area had to offer, so I learned to trust his judgement as we passed on a few really good bulls in search of a great one. But after a few days of looking, we found ourselves mentioning the possibility of a “last day bull.” It was at that point that I knew for sure this was NOT a “canned hunt!”

After days of looking, we finally spotted a mature bull with “a full turn.” While my other 6 animals were taken at distances from 430-865 yards, this bull was closer to 100 yards. However, the terrain made it hard to find a spot to set up for a shot, so I ended up finding a clearing a little further back and resting my rifle on my tripod. I found the bull in my scope, and was waiting for him to step into the open when an even bigger bull stood up right behind him! I can remember actually hearing the pulsing of my heartbeat as I started to squeeze the trigger.

Our persistence and patience ended up paying off, with a 50” Eastern Cape Greater Kudu (meaning one horn measured 50” long)! It turned out to be the largest kudu bull they’d taken on their new property. The official SCI measurements totaled 117 7/8”, which is not only a record book kudu, but is gold level and represents the top 1/3 of all records for that species. It is an absolutely stunning animal, with beautiful markings and mane, and its horns have massive bases with deep curls. … and we got it in October, no less! What a satisfying end to a tough hunt!

I wish I could share all the stories and experiences from the trip! Cory and I took 7-8 animals each. Each of us ended up with 3 trophy animals that qualified for the SCI Record Book, and the rest were cull/management animals they allowed us to hunt at discounted prices. But the animals were just one piece of the experience, which were only amplified by things like listening to baboon calls echo through a valley, watching various pygmy antelope species dart in and out of bushes, hearing the deep bark of a big kudu bull 20 feet away, seeing giraffes and cape buffalo, and meeting interesting people with exotic stories. It’s simply too much to capture in a post!

Here are photos of a few of the animals we hunted:

Here is a summary of all the animals I took, along with distances and trophy measurements:

AnimalDistanceSCI Measurements
Gemsbuck (low fence)526 yards84 3/8” (35.4” length, 7.3” base)
Impala430 yards51 3/8” (20.5” length, 5.5” base)
Cull White Blesbuck865 yards
Cull Impala451 yards
Cull Kudu725 yards
Trophy Kudu100 yards117 7/8” (50.1” length, 9.5” base)
Waterbuck430 yards70 3/8” (26.9” length, 8.4” base)

Each hunt was challenging in its own way. The terrain can make it difficult to even find the animal you’re after, but then you’re forced to read the wind and environment, figure out how to get in a position to take the shot, find your range and dope, and execute the fundamentals … all while trying to manage your nerves! Each time I got behind the rifle, it was the same rush of adrenaline. It really did feel like I got several years of hunting experience packed into 1 week!

African Safari Tradition & The John X Experience

Facilities

A few people asked me before the trip if we’d be staying in tents while we’re hunting, and I told them I really didn’t know what to expect. While I typically research things to death, I blindly trusted Aaron’s recommendation on this trip. He has hunted all over the world, so if he strongly recommended this place, I knew it must be “good” … whatever that meant! But, when we pulled up to the John X Headquarters, I was shocked. The facilities they’ve built over the past year is nothing short of a 5-star resort.

Cory and I each had private suites with king size beds, a nice bathroom and shower, central air conditioning, and a wood burning stove for ambiance. The landscape and views were the “Africa” we had in our head.

Food & Service

After staying there for a solid week, I can say the service and food was nothing short of a 5-star resort either. The four course meals each night would impress foodies, and compare to $100/plate meals here in the states.

The service was similar to a Ritz Carlton or Four Seasons. Here are just a few little touches to give you an idea what I’m talking about:

  • Complimentary daily laundry service. Just leave your clothes in a basket in the room, and they’ll be clean and neatly folded on your bed when you return.
  • Each night we’d enjoy appetizers at their bar, where hunters and staff would swap stories and jokes before dinner. They offer all kinds of complimentary drinks, but as a recovering alcoholic, I just asked for a Coca-Cola. Someone took note of that on the first night, because from that point forward there was a cooler stocked with cokes in our truck as we hunted.
  • Each evening when we came in from a hunt, the small wood burning fireplaces in our rooms would be freshly lit. The rooms had central air conditioning, but the fire just added some ambiance and on the day or two that it rained, it was a warm and welcoming touch.

I learned that, unlike other hunts around the world, traditional African safaris are built around exceptional service and hospitality. When Theodore Roosevelt went on his African safari in 1909 he was greeted with 265 native porters, horses, wagons, and 64 tents. He hunted hard during the day, but in the evening he drank from a wine glass and had a team of people catering to his needs. South Africa in particular takes hospitality very seriously. In fact, to become a certified PH there, you must prove you’re knowledgeable about the animals (i.e. biology, habitat, seasons, etc.), how to process an animal, and can care for the meat and hides. But they go beyond that, and require each PH to prove they can prepare a delicious meal and host a dinner for their guests.

Not only is South Africa serious about hospitality and service, but John X raises the bar even higher. They have a facilities manager focused on providing an exceptional experience for guests, plus the PH’s themselves also go above and beyond. They wake up early to ensure the coffee is ready for their hunters, but also so they’re intentionally available for conversation if one of their hunters was ready a little earlier than expected. When they return in the evening, they don’t consider themselves “off-duty.” They are there to host their guests, and make their stay memorable. At John X, the staff takes professionalism to a whole different level, from everyone on staff wearing “John X” logowear the entire time to the PH’s polishing their boots each morning. Honestly, I’ve stayed at some nice resorts before, but the team at John X took service to a whole different level than I’ve ever experienced.

Our Hunting Rifles & Gear

I spent 10 days in East Africa with my family on a mission trip before Cory and I joined up in South Africa for the safari. Unfortunately, Kenya doesn’t allow you to enter the country with a firearm, so that meant I couldn’t bring my own rifle. Since Cory was flying directly to South Africa, he brought two rifles in his name and I borrowed one for my hunt. Cory bought a lightweight 7mm Rem Mag precision rifle for the trip, which is a pretty ideal rifle for the plains game we intended to hunt. My custom 7mm Rem Mag hunting rifle would have been perfect, but unfortunately South Africa has a law that prohibits one person from bringing in two rifles of the same caliber.

So although I’d prefer a 7mm, I had to either decide to go down to a 6.5mm or up to a 30 caliber or larger. I thought about getting a lightweight 6.5×284 from Gunwerks or even taking my 6.5 Creedmoor precision rifle, but I was concerned that it may not have enough stopping power for some of the animals like kudu and gemsbok. I’d hate to wound an animal that I couldn’t recover, so I decided to go up in size instead of down.

I recently bought a custom 300 Norma/338 Lapua switch-barrel rifle, but I designed it for extreme range shooting. It weighs 22 lbs. fully loaded (i.e. with optics, mount, bipod, etc.), which makes it extremely comfortable to shoot, but that’s far too heavy for spot-and-stalk hunting. I thought about spinning up a barrel for a 300 WSM that I could just screw on one of my custom short action rifles, but I couldn’t think of another time I’d use that cartridge other than this trip, so it seemed wasteful. One of my close friends suggested I take his Sako TRG 42 chambered in 338 Lapua Mag. While a 338 Lapua might be overkill for plains game … what does “overkill” even mean? Is there a risk of the animal being too dead?! So I went with it. Here are the two rifle setups we ended up taking:

Africa Safari Long Range Rifles

Cal’s Setup:

Cory’s Setup:

And I figure some guys might be wondering what other gear we went with for this trip. Traveling that far makes you think through what you need and what you don’t … and how to get it all as light and compact as possible. So here’s a brief summary of some of the other gear I lugged ½ way across the world! (Note: None of these companies “sponsored” me or asked me to publish this. I do a lot research before I buy, and just thought you guys might like to hear where I landed and what my experience was.)

  • Rifle Case: Custom version of the Americase Two Gun Safari Case (view custom drawing). I was anxious about flying internationally and handing over our rifles to airline baggage handlers. Once I knew I was headed to Africa, I ordered this case. It’s heavy, but it’s bullet-proof. I’ve also been using this to carry my primary and backup rifles to matches, and it has worked well.
  • Backpack: Kifaru X-Ray. This is Kifaru’s bestselling pack, because it’s a great size and is the smallest pack with an internal frame. Kifaru tailors each pack to the individual, so the fit is perfect. This is also my primary pack for rifle matches.
  • Binoculars: Leica Geovid HD-B 10×42. These binos feature top-shelf glass and an accurate integrated rangefinder. I ran a thorough field test of most rangefinding binos, and these came out on top … so they’re what I carry.
  • Rangefinder: Gunwerks G7 BR2 Ballistic Rangefinder. My Leica’s have a rangefinder, but I carry this unit because it has an integrated ballistic engine that is very accurate and easy to use for quick elevation and wind adjustments. This thing shines when you only have a few seconds between when you spot the animal to when you need to pull the trigger. I’ve verified the dope it outputs to 1,200 yards, and its dead-nuts on.
  • Tripod Setup: Gitzo GT1542 Mountaineer Tripod, Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ballhead, and Hog Saddle. This is a SUPER-lightweight tripod Aaron told me about. For their TV show, they must carry heavy camera equipment into the field, and he thought the weight to strength ratio of this tripod was the best on the market. After using it for more than a year, I agree. I can’t find a more lightweight setup that provides the same steady platform this does.
  • Ear Protection: ESP Stealth Custom In-Ear Ear Protection. I hunted with a muzzle brake on my rifle to minimize recoil and keep the carrying weight down. But firing a rifle with muzzle brake and no hearing protection can do permanent, irreversible damage to your hearing. I’m around rifles too often to not use hearing protection. I didn’t want to use big muffs or foam inserts for 7 days straight, and also didn’t want to waste time fumbling around for those when it was time for a shot. I’d been looking at some of these high-end, amplified, custom molded, in-ear models for a while, and this trip pushed me over the edge. Lots of competitive shotgun shooters use these, and they’re outstanding. I wore them for all day for 7 days straight, and they were very comfortable and heightened my senses. I love these things!
  • Clothing: Sitka Gear. This was the first time I ever wore high-end hunting clothes, and WOW! A layering system was a smart move. I had a light jacket, mid-weight vest, and thermal pull-over. At times I might have a shirt and all 3 layers, but as the day warmed up I could always find some combination of the 3 that was the right warmth/breathability for any condition. Yet all 3 items packed down to the size of a heavy coat. I also wore the Sitka Timberline Pants every day, and they were perfect: rugged, comfortable, and the removable kneepads were a must-have in some places we hunted. Sitka’s tagline is “Turning clothing into gear,” and it’s obvious they put a ton of thought into every square inch of their product.

Pricing

I realize most hunt articles like this never mention price, and doing so may be taboo. But I didn’t have a clue what a hunt like this would cost, and I was honestly surprised you didn’t have to sell a kidney to be able to afford it. So I thought it might be helpful for some of you guys to see a ballpark estimate for what a hunt like this might run. While I don’t want to offend anyone or come off as bragging, I do care more about being helpful to you guys than being “proper.” 😉

Cost Estimate for Africa Safari

On many big hunts like this, you’re required to pay a lot of money before you even start your hunt. Most of that is non-refundable, regardless of whether you harvest an animal or not. At John X there is a relatively small base price, and then you just pay for the animals you shoot.

The animals in the price summary above are just the ones that Cory & I were interested in, and some spend closer to $15,000, but it just all depends on what animals you are after. Here is the full list for costs on all their animals: John X Safaris 2018 South African Price Sheet. They also typically have some options for cull animals, which are deeply discounted, but the availability varies based on their management strategy and need at the time.

In case you’re like me and aren’t familiar with what “dream hunts” like this might cost, here are a few others for comparison:

  • 3 day hunt for 150 B&C score whitetail on King Ranch in Texas: $6,000
  • 4 day red stag hunt in New Zealand: $6,000-$12,000
  • 5 day elk hunt in Colorado: $6,500
  • 5 day mule deer hunt in Mexico: $13,500
  • 9 day grizzly bear hunt in Alaska: $14,000
  • 10 day moose hunt in Alaska: $15,000
  • 7 day desert bighorn sheep hunt in Mexico: $40,000-90,000

Keep in mind, all those hunts are for a single animal. Also travel and taxidermy aren’t included, and in most cases license, tag, rifle permit, trophy export fee, and other things aren’t included either.

We hunted several species of animals over 7 days with 1-on-1 professional guides, and each took multiple trophy animals that qualified for the SCI record book. We also had some of the best accommodations, food, and service I’ve ever experienced. I realize not everyone is in a position where they can afford these prices, but in comparison to other “dream hunts” … an African safari seems like a bargain.

Tips & What I’d Do Differently

Air 2000 Hunter Service

Cory and I had never traveled internationally with firearms, so we were a little nervous about the paperwork and getting through customs in country. Carl from John X told us about Air 2000 Hunters’ Support Service, which offers a “Hunter Meet & Greet” service. They help you obtain the necessary firearms permits in advance of arrival, then meet you in-person right when you get off the plane to assist you through immigration, baggage and firearms claim, firearms sighting by police and customs, and rechecking the firearm and ammo to your destination. I can’t tell you how much that helped! It was just $180, and having a local expert made the entire process getting in and out of the country very smooth and stress-free. I’d highly recommend that service.

Time of Year

Our October hunt was the end of the season for the outfitter, and while the weather was amazing, it likely made it a little harder to find mature kudu bulls. If you hunt during the rut, mature bulls can be easier to spot because they’re often with groups of cows. It’s exponentially easier to spot a group than a lone bull. However, going in October made us the only hunters on the property most of the time. This meant we had free reign and could go anywhere we wanted. We didn’t have to worry about where other hunters or guides were, which gave us maximum flexibility on where/when we could hunt. I can’t say that I’m disappointed with our October hunt. Obviously, I believe it was the hunt of a lifetime! But the dates we picked were mostly out of convenience for our schedules and may not be the optimal time to hunt.

Number of Days

We hunted 7 full days, and had a travel day on either side of that. I’m going to say that was perfect for me. I think anything shorter, I would’ve felt rushed and wished we stayed longer. If it was longer, I may have missed my family to the point it would have been distracting during the hunt. Seven days was the sweet spot for me.

Long-Range Friendly Outfitters

You should also know that not all outfitters are “long range friendly.” One of my best friends was going on a hunt in Alaska, and he asked the outfitter how far he’d be allowed to shoot. My buddy wasn’t wanting to extend the range past what was necessary, but was just wondering if there was some artificial limit in the guide’s brain. The guide told him he wouldn’t be allowed to shoot beyond 250 yards. My friend has qualified for the PRS finale, and finished in the top 10 at national precision rifle competitions. He’s clearly capable of putting a bullet where he wants at more than twice that distance, and his 300 Norma Mag has more than enough stopping power out to extreme distances. But the outfitter said 250 yards is the hard limit, because the guides couldn’t back him up beyond that. Other outfitters still have an old mindset that any long range shot on an animal is unethical. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you should sling lead at a living animal at just any distance. My rule of thumb for what is the ethical limit for a hunter is what I’m going to call “The 10/10/10 Rule”:

Cal’s 10/10/10 Rule:
Ethical Limit = The distance the hunter would be able to get 10 first-round hits on a 10” plate out of 10 attempts. The size of the plate should represent the size of the vital zone for whatever animal you are hunting, but a 10” target is a good rule of thumb for most big game. The exact distance will vary based on environmental conditions, position, and accuracy of equipment (rifle, rangefinder, etc.). For example, I feel very comfortable that if there was no wind, I was able to lay out prone, and I had time to carefully range a target and calculate the ballistics based on the current atmospherics … I could take an ethical shot out to 600-900 yards, depending on the precision of rifle/ammo and ballistics of the cartridge I was using. Better shooters could extend even further, and it still be an ethical shot. But most people who never practice or have crappy equipment might struggle to get 10 hits on a 10” plate at 150 yards, so that might be their ethical limit in ideal conditions. On the other hand, if the wind was blowing 20 mph, I was shooting off a tripod, and I had to estimate the range … my ethical range might shrink to 200 yards. Requiring 10 for 10 may seem extremely conservative, but the fact is there are always obstacles or nerves in the field that will make it more difficult to execute a shot than in practice. The key is knowing what distance you’d have overwhelming confidence that your bullet will go where you want and result in a clean, humane kill.

The guys at John X have a mature view of long range shooting, and have seen guys like the Gunwerks crew get clean kills at extended ranges. They started off by taking us to their private range where we could verify our rifles were still zeroed, and they also conveniently had steel targets setup so we could check our dope at distances from 400 to 1000 yards. They watched whether we could hit what we were aiming at. They also didn’t just let us fling lead at animals at long range right off the bat. As the week went by, the PH’s learned more about our capabilities and allowed us to extend some of our shots accordingly. My point is that John X has a mature view of long range hunting, and not everyone does. A good portion of their clients are long range shooters, so for those reading my blog … they might be the right fit.

Choosing the Right Country & Outfitter

One last tip I’d give is to understand that not all African safaris are the same. Think about it: If you want to hunt whitetail in Texas, you could choose from 100+ different outfitters. Among those, your hunting experience could range from super-crappy to hunt-of-a-lifetime. The experience may not be precisely correlated with the price each outfitter charges, but in general we all know you get what you pay for. When it comes to Africa, there are two things to keep in mind:

  1. The Country: There are developing countries where you can find budget hunts, but I’d highly recommend hunting in South Africa (at least your first time). Everyone there speaks English, they are very welcoming and friendly to hunters, and it is a relatively stable and safe country. Those aren’t the case in most places in Africa.
  2. The Outfitter: While John X isn’t the cheapest outfitter, they also aren’t the most expensive. But I can say the experience is first-class, and the PH’s are true professionals. They never once pressured me into shooting something I didn’t want to, and more than once convinced me to hold off because we might be able to find a bigger animal. That isn’t how most outfitters work, because they get paid more when you shoot more animals … regardless of whether it represents the best of what that area is capable of producing. I’ve heard horror stories about how some outfitters pressure hunters to shoot the first animal they see, and they put the responsibility on the hunter to decide whether that is a good animal for the area or not. In contrast, I feel like our PH’s had our best interest at heart, and that is really why I’d HIGHLY recommend them to any of my family or friends. That’s also why 99% of John X’s business is from repeat customers. In fact, Cory and I were only the 3rd group of hunters this entire year that hadn’t hunted with them before. That extremely high return rate cuts through all the marketing and B.S., and says more about them than I ever could.

Cal & Stix Setting Up for Shot on Waterbuck

My New View of Hunting

I originally thought this would be a once in a lifetime hunt, but I already know I’m going back. I can’t stop thinking about this hunt. But, it’s also challenged how I think about hunting. It reminds me of something I heard Steven Rinella, one of my favorite outdoor writers and host of MeatEater, say once. Steven said he’d always believed a rifle was something that had to find you. It may have been handed down to you or inherited somehow, but then you worked to make the most out of what you had. But one day someone challenged that mindset, and Steven built a custom bolt action hunting rifle. He was shocked at how much he enjoyed getting to customize everything about the rifle, picking the absolute best components money can buy, and striking the perfect balance between carry weight and precision for his particular application. Since that time, I’ve watched him carry that custom 7mm Rem Mag rifle all over the world on his TV shows. If you’re reading this, you probably know there is nothing like the confidence you can get from a really fine-tuned and proven precision rifle, and that’s what Steven experienced and realized he had been deprived of unknowingly for far too long.

Cal Zant with South Africa KuduI was from an old-school hunting mindset that says the most rewarding hunt is when you do all the work yourself and make the most of whatever land you have access to. You setup the food plots, cleared your own shooting lanes, and carefully studied the patterns of the local wildlife (where they bed, where they water, when they travel). Then you spent 10-30 days out in the field with a laser-focus on hunting the biggest animal you’d caught on your trail cams. That’s how I rolled for more than a decade.

But, I have to admit that the most memorable and rewarding hunt in my life was hunting kudu in South Africa. That certainly challenged my old-school mindset! This was an extremely challenging and fulfilling hunt, I ended up with the largest trophy animals I’ve ever taken, and all without having to do the 80+ hours of prep work before the season even began. I’m not saying that I won’t continue to hunt locally in a way similar to what I described, but this just opened my eyes to the fact that a great hunt doesn’t have to be that way.

Leave behind the familiar and embrace the wild adventures the world has to offer. No great stories are born from blindly repeating what you did last year. Experience something new! Set a course for an adventure you’ll tell your grandkids about one day!

About Cal

Cal Zant is the shooter/author behind PrecisionRifleBlog.com. Cal is a life-long learner, and loves to help others get into this sport he's so passionate about. Cal has an engineering background, unique data-driven approach, and the ability to present technical information in an unbiased and straight-forward fashion. For more info, check out PrecisionRifleBlog.com/About.

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38 comments

  1. Cal, this is the best article about Africa written! Like you said most articles written do not mention the
    cost of the trip to find out you have to give up your first born child to go! Your trip seemed like a unbelivable
    hunting experience and relatively not that expensive. Awesome job and great blog!!

  2. Cal,
    I appreciate your perspective of a first-time hunt in Africa from a flatland hunter. I’m a little old to fit an African Hunting trip into my list bucket, but your article is the next-best thing. I’m hoping to go and witness a PRS match near Lubbock, and hopefully join in on the competition. Thanks for your well-written accounts.

    • Hey, Jim! Thanks for the kind words. You know, it’s funny how similar some of the terrain was to what it’s like around Post, TX. Instead of mesquites, they had some small scrub-brush with acacia trees, which have a have thorns that are a little longer … but they had the same prickly pear cactus, and other plants that were similar. They also had something called a “jumping cactus,” which I hope to never see again in my life! Wow those things hurt.

      And I’m not sure your too old for an Africa safari. There was one other hunter in camp part of the time we were there, and I bet you guys were similar ages. He didn’t hike 50 miles like we did, but the PH’s are good about adapting to the hunter. Honestly, if you can shoot out to 400-500 yards, you could probably have a good hunt without ever having to walk more than 100 yards from the truck. Lots of their clients are older. You might call and talk to them before you strike it from your bucket list. I’d sure love for you to get to enjoy that experience.

      … and take your wife! Mine is going with me next time. She’s never been interested in hunting, but had to listen to me retell story after story about this one … and she said she’d be my “Sherpa” and carry gear next time I went, just to be able to see all the cool stuff that I did, and enjoy the food and views. It really is crazy when you think there are 28+ different game animals in an area, and most of them have interestinv little quirks about them that make them very different than anything I’d ever experienced.

      And you should join some of the local PRS matches. I usually go to the Outwest PRS Club matches, which are held north of Stanton and also in Midland, but there is another PRS club in Amarillo with good matches. Those PRS club matches are a lot of fun, and the ones I’ve been to are very friendly to new people. Here’s a link to all the dates for the club matches in the Central division, which includes the areas I mentioned: https://www.precisionrifleseries.com/profiles/clubs/CE

      Hopefully we’ll see you out at a match soon!

      Thanks,
      Cal

  3. Thanks for taking the time to do this write-up. Very interesting and well-written. I’m re-thinking my ideas on hunting deer and elk in Arizona, where I live. Maybe a guided trip is the way to go.

    -Steve

    • Steve, that’s exactly what I’m thinking at this point. It really changed my perspective. I never thought I’d enjoy a guided hunt, because I’m a DIY kind of guy. Look at any of my ridiculous field tests, and you can see that I like to do things myself. But this completely changed my perspective. It was a hard hunt, but I just had a partner alongside me to give me advice. It actually made it more fun than if they’d have tossed me the keys and said I could go wherever I want and kill whatever I want. It made it more enjoyable.

      Now I’m sure there are good guides and bad ones. My first experience wasn’t probably representative of what is typical, but I think I’m just going to start looking for reputable outfitters who have a lot of repeat customers … and might start hunting this way more often. I might not do it every year, but maybe every other year a big hunt in a completely new environment could be a lot of fun.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  4. Cal: This is a great article and it’s obvious that you had a blast, but I think that your enthusiasm colored your approach to accounting a bit. For example, you list “Other Expenses” separately in a way that keeps your primary estimate under $10k – which looks manageable on first blush. But if added together, your own actual, identified expenses appear to be about $15,000. I add the modifiers “identified” and “about” because you didn’t include how much you actually tipped various folks along the way, and because there are a lot of additional expenses incurred with preparing to, and then traveling to, a place half way around the world. You’re usually a stickler for precision; could you possibly provide a precise accounting of how much you actually spent, from soup to nuts? That would better help me decide among moose, kudu and griz. And I promise not to tell your wife….

    • Yes sir. I separated those costs on purpose, because the prices for comparison hunts right below that also don’t include other expenses like travel or taxidermy. Showing the numbers separately allows more of an apples-to-apples comparison with those other hunts, but still includes the other amounts so that you’d know the “all-in” price.

      But, I’m not trying to hide anything. Like always, I’m 100% transparent in the numbers. For tips, they have some suggestions, but always leave that up to the individuals. In fact, they explicitly say this in some of the material they send you before the safari: “At all times keep in mind a tip is a bonus greatly appreciated, but not expected.” But I asked Stix what was customary and then decided to go a little above what they suggested. But that was just my choice, because I try to be a generous guy … and I’d had an incredible time. I tipped the PH $100/day, the tracker $250 for the whole safari, and I gave the camp staff around $30/day. All in, I think that totals around $1,200 for tips. I’m honestly not sure what Cory did. I’d expect some tip less than that, and I’m sure some tip more … that’s just what I did.

      The only numbers I can think of that I aren’t included in what I showed is that we had to pay for 2-3 meals during the layovers in airports. That might have been $100. I also bought a John X fleece pullover, and a copy of their 2017 photo book they put together showing all their hunts from that year. Those were around $200 total.

      I honestly never converted any US dollars into the local currency, because everything was included once you met your PH at the airport. I never once reached for my wallet to pay for a drink, snack, or meal over the entire 7 days. So I don’t think there are hidden costs here that I didn’t mention.

      I did upgrade both of us to business class on one of the long international flights home. I think that was $800/person … but obviously you don’t have to do that if you don’t want to. (It was awesome though!) I had been gone for over 3 weeks, and I was hoping to go to work the day after we landed back in the states. Business class gave us access to the business lounge with showers during our long layover, and also allowed us to lay down flat to sleep and land rested. When you’re traveling more than 24 hours door-to-door, stuff like that can make a huge difference in how long it takes to recover from the trip. But that was a last minute call, and obviously you don’t have to do that if you don’t want to.

      But also keep in mind that a flight to Alaska to hunt grizzly or moose isn’t free either. You might pay up to $1,000 for a round trip ticket, and then might have to pay a bush plane to fly you further in … which isn’t cheap. You might end up spending the $1,500 flights, which could get you to South Africa.

  5. So what was the favorite bullet among the PH’s for elk sized game?

    • Great question!!! Stix really liked 7mm bullets for all plains game, including kudu and gemsbuck sized animals (which are similar to elk). Shot out of some type of magnum rifle, from the good old 7mm Rem Mag up to the speedy 28 Nosler, the 7mm bullets seem to be pretty ideal for that weight of game. Based on our conversation, I’d bet Stix would tip his hat to Berger bullets. It sounded like he’d seen a lot of bullets, but the Bergers just always get the job done … and often give really devastating results. I expect the PH’s will start seeing an influx of ELD-X bullets, and that might start becoming a favorite … but they’re still fairly new.

      Thanks,
      Cal

      • Good to know and always good to read your articles. Have you ever considered doing gel testing for some of your hunting rounds at different ranges. I’m really curious as to how an SST, ELD-X, and a Sierra game king would stack up honestly. Also do most individuals who report good luck with bergers shoot high shoulder or do they upset well behind the shoulder in soft tissue.

        Thanks

      • Oh, I have! … several times. I even remember watching a video showing how the Mythbusters made their ballistic gel, and almost bought the stuff one time. Those slow-mo videos are always really interesting. Unfortunately the cameras are stupid-expensive. But there would still be value to doing it, even without the high-speed camera shot. I just don’t have the time at this point.

        I took all high-shoulder shots, at least for all the animals that were broadside. I shot the waterbuck when he was facing straight at me, and I shot the trophy impala when he was quartering away from me … so those two weren’t high shoulder, but the rest were. I asked Stix where I should put the shot on every animal, so he typically recommended high-shoulder too. In the Long Range University class last year, Aaron and the Gunwerks guys all recommended high shoulder shots for most animals. That was actually part of the curriculum they went through, which was pretty cool. Some African animals have a little different anatomy than what you think, so I studied this little “Perfect Shot Africa Mini Edition” book before I left, and even brought it with me on the trip. But in general, high-shoulder shots seem to be the consensus.

        I like to give the bullet “something to eat on”, instead of hitting behind the shoulder. I did hit behind the shoulder on the big kudu I shot, but luckily the 285gr bullet hit it hard despite that. I’ve had some bullets (a brand other than the ones we’re talking about here) pinhole through animals if it only contacted soft tissue, so that has made me err on the side of shoulder impact. You might waste a little meat, but it results in a quick, clean kill.

        Thanks,
        Cal

  6. Excellent article! I’ve always been very interested but a little …ah…’concerned’ about an African hunt. The regional instabilities, the price, horror stories of unethical outfitters, which type of gun to use, getting the firearms there and back, getting the trophies out and of course… getting eaten by a lion ;). As if you had read my mind, you not only addressed most all my questions and doubts, you actually turned them around to the point I am excited to consider such an adventure!
    I hope to begin the planning phase with the start of the new year and John X’s operation sounds top notch and just the fit for what I have in mind.
    Your writing is clear and concise and covers everything I was curious about and even has me looking at options I didn’t know existed, such as the Hunters Service Support, seriously, thank you!

    • You bet, Jim! Glad you found it helpful. When I was writing this, I was trying to think of all the things I wish someone would have told me 5-10 years ago! I wanted to give people a good overview of what the experience was, including the hunting … but the other parts too. And honestly the price stuff was hard for me to figure out, even when I was planning to go, because I kept thinking I must be missing something. Some of this stuff I didn’t even know until I was there, but I trusted Aaron wouldn’t lead me astray. So I’m glad you found all that stuff helpful. Thanks for taking to time to share that.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  7. Cal,
    My wife and I are fortunate enough to be joining a great group on a 9 day hunt with John X in May 2018. You can imagine how much this article adds to the excitement. I appreciate that you shared you gear list etc., we, as well as most of the group I believe, are first timers hunting in South Africa. Thanks to the guys who picked John X for our hunt!

    • Well, I’m a little jealous … but glad to be of service. You’re going to love it!

      You’ll likely be in some of the same exact spots I was, so I’d really recommend those Sitka pants with removeable knee pads. I found myself in what they call “jumping cactus” a couple times, and some of the rocks are brutal. Knee pads made it bearable enough that I could focus and get a shot off.

      Best of luck to you guys!

      Thanks,
      Cal

  8. when are you gonna do 2017 what the pros use

    • Hey, Chris. Unfortunately, I won’t be publishing a “What The Pros Use” series this year. I didn’t survey the shooters, because honestly I just don’t have time to process and publish the results right now. There is more time that goes into that than you might think. I have taken on additional responsibilities at work, and this has been a busy season for me. I’m not closed off to doing it in the future, but I just didn’t have time to do it in 2017. I know that probably comes as a disappointment to some, but I just couldn’t make it happen.

      Thanks,
      Cal

      • Cal, I would love to help you with some of the research sift/sort to keep some of the “What the Pros use” articles up to date.

        Those articles have driven many of my build decisions for my rifles. The PRB is reference material for a bunch of us out here. Just let me know.

      • I appreciate the offer, Al. I’m glad it’s been so helpful for you. That was my intent when I started the website, so glad it’s become a trusted reference material for you.

        Thanks,
        Cal

  9. About a half dozen times I opted for African safaris rather than a new truck…all good decisions from the tented 21day Tanzania to the 10 day lodge based plains game, elephant and leopard hunts.
    I kind of disagree about borrowed guns & optics…but at 6’4″ fit is not automatic. When you tune a rifle/optic just for you…it’s like going to the prom with your mother. That club you carried really isn’t necessary with the X bullets; my 7×57 mountain rifle with 160 gr Barnes X took a 42″ Buff @ 142 paces DRT (Shoulder/spine) !
    Good idea to take the wife and maybe a few days on the Blue Train or Capetown.

    • Ha! CR, good to hear from you. I actually wouldn’t borrow a rifle if I had it to do over. That seemed like a good idea at the time, but I didn’t know the rifle well and ended up losing the cheek piece at one point! Had to double back where we’d been hiking and luckily I found it. Point of impact definitely shifts without a cheek piece … ask me how I know! 😉

      I know the 338 is overkill, and more recoil than you really need. Like I said, my 7mm Rem Mag would have been ideal. Just weird travel circumstances this trip, but next time I’ll have it!

      I like your comment about the truck. Lots of people say they can’t afford this stuff, but they live in a big house, drive a new truck, and have a boat, RV, or big deer lease. For some it just comes down to priorities!

      I know you’ve been on a lot of cool hunts, but this was a first for me … but I told Aaron yesterday thanks for getting me hooked! I’m already thinking about the next one. It was more fun than I thought could be legal!

      Good to hear from you, buddy!
      Cal

  10. Thank you for penning a truly comprehensive and compelling hunting article that reads as one of the best I have seen!
    I live in Cape Town and also enjoy hunting in the Eastern Cape occasionally and it makes me proud as a South African to hear how much you enjoyed your experience and to hear how well you were treated.

    Thanks for an great article and hope you get to visit SA again sometime.

    • You bet! I’ve been fortunate to visit several countries overseas, but I really, really enjoyed my time in South Africa. It definitely ranks towards the top of my list. You guys should be proud. Beautiful country, and I really enjoyed the people I got to meet. I’m positive I’ll be back at some point!

      Thanks,
      Cal

  11. SO happy for you to have additional symptoms with your addiction !
    Congratulations on your “Grey Ghost”…especially good one for the Eastern Cape subspecies !
    Merry CHRISTmass
    PS:Decades ago I took Christi on a really nice safari and now she is the one who has won the Texas Trophy Hunter’s Extravaganza and has appropriated and cutdown/modified my Win 70 Featherweight .243 and my Rem 700 Mt. Rifle 7×57…she preferred them over the Blaser I got here till I got her the Lady Savage 6.5 CM. It has one of the scopes I bought from Aaron. How about the Revic 428…have you used one yet ?
    CR

    • Yes sir. I have one of those Revic scopes right now, and have taken it out to test several times. I’ve been impressed. Aaron was just hoping I could give them early feedback on it, before they go into production. I’d like to do a write-up on it at some point, but I’m not sure if I’ll have time. But, really this probably sums it up: I’m hoping they let me buy it instead of having to send it back.

      An integrated heads-up display inside the field of view of the scope seems to be the way of the future. After SHOT Show a couple years ago, I remember saying the next frontier for the industry will be integrating all the various tools we have. Over the past decade there have been a ton of precise tools introduced that have helped us get first-round hits. While that’s a good thing, it has also dramatically increased complexity and the number of things we’re trying to juggle while in the field. It’s far from ideal to grab a rangefinder to lase the target to get the range, then grab a Kestrel or smartphone to enter that range and wind to get the dope, then get behind your rifle and dial the dope on the scope, then acquire the target in your scope, then double-check your bubble level outside the scope and adjust, then reacquire the target in the scope and take the shot. Rangefinders like the G7 BR2 and Sig Kilo AB take out one of those steps, but the Revic scope takes it further and helps you “live in a scope” for all the steps after you range it.

      The biggest part I was concerned about was if it’d be intuitive to use or cumbersome to fiddle with all the inputs … but I was very pleasantly surprised with how well it works. I have professional training and experience in designing user interfaces and visualizing data (like on a dashboard or heads-up display), and I’m a pretty detailed/critical guy in general, so I figured I’d have a bunch of suggestions for them on what to improve … but I really didn’t. I had some feedback, but I’d probably put it all in the “nit-picky” category.

      I honestly believe they’ll pioneer a new area for optics with that product, and other manufacturers will see the merit and enter that space quickly afterward. It certainly is a compelling product for hunters that are trying to simplify how many things they have to worry about in the field.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  12. Hi Cal

    Thanks for the kind words and compliments. I will be passing those onto the rest of my team.

    Thanks again and I look forward to sharing a campfire in Africa on your next safari.

    Carl

    • You bet, Carl! You guys have crafted a really amazing experience, from start to finish. I’m just thankful I got to see it firsthand. I’ll be back to see you guys at some point!

      Thanks,
      Cal

  13. Hi Cal great article you’ve got me really interested in my first safari hunt with JohnX, also highly recommended by the gunwerks guys of course. I’m shopping for a BH 55 on Amazon, and was wondering if you could give me the configuration of yours? There are three different versions listed on Amazon and I don’t want to needlessly spend additional money.

  14. Cal, I love the way you write, always great detail where it’s needed and nicely laid out. It’s clear you put a lot of thought, and effort into your articles and I appreciate that as it makes them so much more useful than the usual low quality stuff in the magazines and blogs. Keep up the good work, hopefully you will have time in 2018 for more!

    Jon Gillespie-Brown, Author, Long Range Shooting and Hunting.

    • Jon, thanks for the kind words. It does take more time and effort than most people realize, so I really appreciate you noticing it and taking the time to leave the comment.

      I noticed in your signature you said you were also an author, so I Googled you … and then I was even more honored by your comments! You seem to be a renaissance man! What’s funny is I’m primarily a business guy (where my real passion lies), and have become a gun writer just because of my passion for that area and desire to help others enjoy this sport that I love. There seems to be some overlaps in our interests … although your resume is MUCH more impressive! I thought I was busy, but after reading your LinkedIn profile and seeing your books … I almost feel lazy! Do you even have time to sleep?! 😉

      Thanks again for the kind words. It does mean a lot that someone noticed how much time goes into these.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  15. Cal,
    I have been waiting for your latest post and this was certainly worth the wait. Very well written and informative well beyond the norm.

    It is also great that you were able to travel over with your family leading up to it for the mission trip.

    Looking forward to more, such as how the chosen bullets performed if recovered.

    Best regards,
    Phil Hanebutt

    • Hey, Philip. Glad you found this interesting. The mission trip before the hunt was amazing too. That’s the 2nd time I’ve had a chance to take a mission trip to Kenya, but this time my wife and I were able to take our two little girls with us, and that was special.

      As far as bullet performance goes, I’m not sure there is a lot to tell there. Every animal we hit ended up in the back of the truck a few minutes later. So from a high level, they did their job. I’ll try to give you what I can though.

      I was using Hornady ELD-M bullets, because they hadn’t come out with an ELD-X bullet for the 338 caliber yet. Of course, they actually did release one very recently, but it wasn’t out before my trip. I chose that bullet 285gr ELD-M based on Nathan Foster’s recommendation in his book Long Range Hunting Cartridges. Nathan is a gunsmith and researcher behind Terminal Ballistics Research. If you’ve never checked out his wound research, it will blow your mind! I have all of his books, and would highly recommend them. This was one of Nathan’s favorite bullets for the 338 in terms of terminal performance, although there aren’t a lot of great options out there. If I were to do it again, I’d definitely go with the next ELD-X bullet Hornady released, because it’s designed for this. If Berger made bullets that were rated for hunting for the 338, that’d be another good option. But there are just limited options for 338 hunting bullets. (Another reason I will be carrying my 7mm Rem Mag on my next African safari, but just couldn’t do that on this one because of circumstances.) I talked to a ballistician at Hornady before my trip, to get their “unofficial” thoughts on me going with the 285gr ELDM. They said although the 285 wasn’t a hunting bullet, it would have reliable expansion due to the polymer tip. And although the bullet wasn’t designed to have a jacket that controls expansion at high impact velocities like the ELD-X, it will still work well with proper shot placement. Because Nathan at Terminal Ballistics Research had taken lots of animals with the 285gr ELDM and it was one of his top choices for 338 hunting bullets, I had confidence to go with it. I have a TON of respect for Nathan’s research. He’s a very test-driven guy, and if you like my blog … I know you’d appreciate his blog and books.

      Overall, I was very happy with the performance of the bullets. Like I said, every animal I hit was in the back of the truck a few minutes later. It’s hard to argue with those results. I only missed 2 shots the entire time, and they were clean misses and I didn’t re-engage them. Almost all of my bullets exited and weren’t recovered, but the couple that we recovered in the carcass were shrapnel. There was one shot on an impala that had one main entrance wound, and another very small entrance wound … which makes me think part of the jacket separated before impact. The best Stix and I could figure out was that the bullet clipped a small branch we saw a few feet in front of the animal. The barrel I was using was the factory Sako barrel, which is a 1:10 twist, and that isn’t an extreme twist rate. I hit steel targets out beyond 1 mile with that rifle and ammo consistently, so I think the bullet would have had to hit something for it to come apart mid-air. The secondary entrance would was very small, but we just noticed a few drops of blood coming from a different spot and sure enough there was a tiny hole there. But even on that shot, the main entrance was PRECISELY where I was trying to put it and it resulted in an instant drop and clean kill. In fact, that was likely my best shot on the whole trip. It was only 430 yards, but it was in a 15 mph wind across a valley, and the animal was quartering away from me, so the target I was aiming for was relatively small for those conditions … but I put it EXACTLY on the spot where I was aiming. I couldn’t have walked out to it and drawn a dot on it any better than where I pinpointed the bullet. That’s a deeply satisfying feeling when it happens.

      I did hit a little further back on the trophy kudu than I was hoping to. Honestly, a lot of things happened in the 10 seconds leading up to that shot that contributed to that, but like I mentioned in the post … I could literally hear my heartbeat as I squeezed the trigger, so it was the worse case of buck fever I’ve ever had and I’m sure that didn’t help. My shot him in the back of the vitals (kidney area), so it wasn’t a complete gut shot … but the 338 hit hard. It knocked him down right away, but when we went to retrieve him he got up and I couldn’t get another shot on him because of the thick brush in that area. We tracked him for just a little ways with decent blood trail, and when he popped up at about 20 yards from me I put a 2nd bullet in him that finished the job. The 1st bullet exited, but the 2nd didn’t … it completely turned the front shoulder and vitals into mush. Stix thought the power of the 338 was really a difference maker on a less than optimal shot placement like my 1st one on.

      As for Cory’s Hornady 7mm 162gr ELD-X bullets, it is a much shorter story. I believe Cory dropped all of his animals with one shot. I remember seeing at least one of the bullets that we recovered, and it was a fragment … but there was still some jacket and lead attached together. Cory had great shot placement, and the ELD-X performed as advertised. Nathan was also a big fan of the terminal performance for this bullet. The ELD-X seems to be a really good design for hunting.

      Hope this helps!

      Thanks,
      Cal