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BP Virus

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The block house

The first hunt in the season is always special. It involves long preparation and planning which usually start a year in advance. But this trip was special because of other reasons too.

My father was visiting from overseas so he would join me and my long time hunting partner Mile on our season’s opener. He is 86 years "young" and still keen to hunt. Like a teenager, when asked for his age he always adds one year, probably in a hurry to reach 100. In addition to all this excitement, on this hunt I was going to try my new toy for the first time in the field.

I was reading various articles about black powder guns in hunting magazines and thinking how silly grown up old boys must be when they play with 19th century guns. Do they carry gas masks when they shoot their black powder "pieces"? Do they know that nowadays people use computers and not ink and goose-feathers anymore?

At that time a friend of mine bought a Pietta’s replica of the 1861 Navy Colt and he invited me to try it out for the first time at a shooting range. I instantly contracted the Black Powder Virus (BPV) – if you go to any shooting range you will see that this virus is spreading faster than swine flu in South Africa.

To make our discussions more interesting (mine is better than yours), I bought a replica of Remington’s 1858 model only a few days after I was exposed to the virus. It took me much longer to explain to my wife how essential this investment was in the upcoming economic crisis. Thanks to the very efficient clerks in the Department of Explosives in Pretoria, I got my black powder permit in 3 days and was ready to shoot my own "piece".

While you can cure swine flu, scientists still haven’t found a reliable medicine for BPV. Very soon you become addicted to the black powder smoke and you want to burn more and more of it. And you need more and more guns. I rejected the idea of shooting any big game with my Remington so I desperately needed a muzzleloader for hunting. Because my birthday was approaching, I announced to my family that they can be relieved and stop searching for (expensive) presents - I’d already found one. Under pressure I had to promise that after this purchase I would not buy anything even resembling a gun anymore (I crossed my fingers behind my back).

After some internet research and a visit to the Aim Show I made my choice. Not being a traditionalist I settled on Pedersoli’s rolling block rifle in .50 caliber. This is a modern and very accurate gun whose barrel has a fast 1 in 24" twist that allows you to use cones and round balls. The back and front sights have green and red fiberglass strings respectively, which make them very visible. On the shooting range I’ve managed to put patched round balls with 90gr of Sanadex in the 5cm circle, even from a free standing position. You can mount a scope on it and get better grouping but I decided to use open sights and limit my shooting distance to 50- 80 meters (my eyesight is not good enough for longer shots).

Additional pleasure in possessing the BP gun is that you can improvise and make your own equipment. I’ve picked up a few tricks from some helpful people on the shooting range; like using small tablet containers for pre-measured powder charges. The handle for the rod is not included in the standard equipment you get with the rifle – which I immediately noticed on the first outing when I almost pierced my hand while pushing the ball into the barrel. So I made one for myself using a piece of wood and a screw. A match box can be used to store the round balls and small plastic containers with secure lids can be used to carry a few musket caps while hunting.

Now equipped with all the essentials we headed to the Eastern Cape. Our destination was the 5500ha farm in the Middleburg area. It is a sheep farm but it has a large population of fallow deer and mountain reedbucks. There are some springboks and blesboks too, but our main difficulty would be to come close enough to a really wild fallow deer stag. They are not indigenous to South Africa, but they have adapted well to our climate and they offer a challenging hunt.

On our arrival we agreed with our hosts to try for the deer the next day and then have a driven hunt for springboks the day after. We unpacked quickly in the cottage used for hunters’ accommodations and then moved to the neighboring building. Another thing I like a lot on this farm is an original Boer War blockhouse which was converted into a braai place. Despite some setbacks it gives enough protection from some very cold Eastern Cape evenings, especially if you drink a whiskey or two to regulate your inner temperature.

In the previous year I had hunted on the same farm with the young farmer’s sons as guides, but this time our guides would be Hendrik and Willem, two local farm workers. We decided that I would go alone with Hendrik because my environment friendly father and friend didn’t want to suffocate from the smoke my rifle produces.

At 7 o’clock the next morning we were in the hunting field. It is a huge area between the local road and the mountains. Next to the road is a small stream with bushes and trees around it. As you get closer to the mountains there is less and less cover. The deer like feeding at the foot of the mountain and it is possible to glass them from far away, but soon I realized that it will be very tricky to come to the shooting distance I had set for myself.

As many other guides, Hendrik was rushing in front of me, thinking that we will see more if we walk faster. I’d managed to slow him down and we stayed close to the stream using patches of trees and bushes as good cover. Soon we found two groups of does and just for fun I tried to come close to them. I stayed upright, using any available trees for cover. I moved only when they were feeding, with the wind in my favor. Sometimes I had to cross open gaps with no cover but I still managed to come pretty close to the two does. I wanted to shoot a young stag for a pot so we left the does and searched further. At that point we found a group of five fallow deer with one big and one very young stag among them. They were in the open veld but not too far from the last line of trees. When we reached the last tree, only some short grass and a few small bushes were between us and the deer. I left Hendrik and started leopard crawling with the rifle on a sling over my back. After struggling for 20 meters I lifted my head and saw the young deer heading straight towards me. He was suspicious and came to investigate.

I had to quickly take the rifle off my back, find the musket cap in my pocket, cock the gun and put the cap on the nipple; all that while clinging to the ground. When I was finally ready the stag was barely 40 paces from me. I shot it straight in the chest and through the smoke I saw it fall instantly to the ground. What a success on the first black powder hunt! Later we found the bullet, which had doubled in diameter but hadn’t lost any weight. The weight of the ball taken from the deer was 175gr – same as the original. On returning to the camp I found out that my smokeless companions didn’t shoot anything. Now it was my turn to tease!

In the afternoon I accompanied my father as a gun carrier. All the stocks on my rifles were too long for him and his eyes don’t serve him as well as they used to. He was keen to find his stag, so I came along as an extra pair of eyes. I didn’t slow down Hendrik on time so we flushed a group of deer while crossing the stream. Soon we were able to see a few other herds at the foot of the mountain, where big stags were showing off their horns. To come close to them with my father would be even more challenging than with my muzzleloader, so we progressed slowly along the stream and Hendrik adjusted his stride. In one long clearing between two lines of trees I saw something big coming straight towards us. The three of us froze and we stood in amazement. It was a relaxed kudu bull that kept on coming closer and closer, and only changed direction when we could count the hairs on his eyelashes. This NEVER happens when you hunt kudu – this guy knew exactly that we were not after him.

Our slow pace paid off very soon afterwards. Hendrik saw a deer and tried to point it out to us but neither my father nor I could see it. I thought the animal was far away, so Hendrik almost gave up pointing to the same spot until I finally saw it lying in the tall grass 20 meters from us. Only the horns were visible to me but my father still couldn’t see it. In all that commotion the stag stood up and moved slightly. Luckily he was not sure what was happening so he didn’t run and my father had enough time to aim. We were standing in the open and there was nothing to use for support, so I put my hand under the rifle to help my father steady it. At the sound of the shot the stag disappeared. We found it in the exact same spot where it was standing a second ago with a perfectly placed neck shot. It seems that some old-timers never forget how to shoot.

On our arrival back to the lodge we found out that Mile had shot a doe and a young stag, which gave us more reason to celebrate with a few sundowners. There would be liver for breakfast next morning for sure.

In the next two days everyone managed to get a springbok or two and we had a nice walk in the hills where we shot two mountain reedbucks. The driven hunt was a new experience for me and I was very proud that I managed to shoot a springbok at 80 meters with my "smoke" gun, but I still prefer walking than waiting for game to be driven to me.

I have no doubt in my mind that this will not be my last hunting adventure with my "old" black powder gun and I hope it’s not the last one that I shared with my "young" father.

Darko Egersdorfer

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