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A Marine Sniper’s Review of Africa Hunt Lodge October 6, 2017

Posted by Chris Mark in Uncategorized.
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AFHL

Kudu_resizeI had always wanted to hunt in Africa.  I had hunted deer and hog as a young man and was a Marine Scout/Sniper for quite a few years.  I had always had a dream of hunting in Africa and hunting plains game.  After my first photo safari in Timbivati, I was fixated on going back to Africa to hunt!

Personally, I don’t have an interest in hunting Lion, Leopard, or other animals but plains games were my passion.  Just not my thing…but…I wanted to hunt plains game.  I was fortunate to have found myself with an opportunity to go in August of 2017.

This blog post is a story of my experience.  If you are against hunting in Africa, I would ask that you read the following article, and this one, and this one, and this one, and finally…this one  before making a judgement.  At the end of the day, game management and controlled hunting is very beneficial to both game species as well as the economy in South Africa.  If you don’t like it..you don’t have to go.

Before I embarked on my hunt, I did research…A LOT of research.  I wanted to ensure that the hunts were fair and I wanted to understand more about how hunting impacted conservation.  Questions like: “What happens to the meat?”; “How are the animals hunted?”; “Are hunting trophies “guaranteed” (not a good thing, BTW)…?” were some of the questions I sought to answer.  Once I was fully satisfied that the journey would be fair, and that the meat would not be wasted, I then looked for an outfitter.

In Africa a hunter must hunt with the Professional Hunter (PH).  A Professional Hunter is a licensed professional hunter that has attended a full year (or more) of school and has passed a number of difficult exams.  The PH is responsible for (in no particular order) 1) hunter safety, 2) finding game 3) ensuring the game is legal, of proper size etc. 4) approving the animal and the shot and 5) saving your rear end if you screw up.  That part is important 😉  Read here for more information about the PH program.

My friend (SF Trained Medic and SARC DocSARC Doc) and I settled on the Africa Hunt Lodge.  Why?  We were able to head to Kerrville, Texas and talk with the folks at Texas Hunt Lodge (a sister company) and meet the team.  Aaron and team spent 2 hours with us answering every question we could ask and showing us their taxidermy shop, hunting lodge and explaining all aspects.  Cool guys…very patient with our badgering questions! 😉

The team was very professional, very polite, and they answered all of our questions.  Once we settled on Africa Hunt Lodge as our outfitter, we had to make arrangements for travel and hunting.  We singed up for a 7 day hunt (with 2 extra days) and a total of six animals each.  We made our flight arrangements about 9 months in advance and were ready for south Africa!.   One thing I want to remind everyone is that you are spending a lot of money hunting…get flights early and PRACTICE at the range…on sticks!…you don’t want to miss!

lodge

Landing in O.R. Tambo International Airport, we made our way to the Police Station in the Airport to retrieve our Rifles.  You are allowed to bring 2 rifles into South Africa although many people simply rent the rifles at the lodge.  It took about 1 full hour to get our rifles through customs and we were met by our PH, Wikus.  We packed up and drove for 3-4 hours to the Limpopo district of South Africa.   We finally arrived at the Africa Hunt Lodge at 11pm or so after a 30 hour trip to South Africa…This is the real Bushveld!  It is thick bush with thorns on every tree, bush, plant, flower (joke) etc.  The tree I learned to watch out for is the Black Thorn Tree.  Yeah, you learn quick why it is named the Black Thorn Tree!  After arriving Wikus was accommodating and said we could ‘sleep in’ until 7am 😉  We loved it!  This is how hunting should be!  By 9am the next morning we were looking for game!

 

The next morning we met in the lodge to eat a great breakfast of eggs, sausage, toast, orange juice and grits.  Then we packed up lunches and met our tracker “Joe”, jumped into the back of the Toyota Hilux (if you have ever been in the Middle East, Africa, or Europe you have seen a Hilux)…and off we went to our first ‘concession’.  In South Africa, all hunting takes place on hunting “Concessions”.  These are basically very, VERY large game farms.  These can range from 2,000 to over 25,000 Acres (from approximately 2 square miles to approximately 40 square miles).  We typically hunted from 4000 – 7000 concessions (6.25 – 11 sqm).

bushveld

The type of hunting is typically “Spot and Stalk”.  In short, you drive in the back of a truck trying to find an animal or heard and, if lucky, you can then jump down and ‘stalk’ the animal and, hopefully, get a shot at the animal.  For those who think this is ‘canned hunting’.  Let me assuage your concerns.  On our first day, we saw some animals but had no opportunity to shoot.  No big deal…This is why it is called “hunting” and not “shooting”.  Sometimes you are the bug…sometimes you are the windshield.

We tracked Zebra for 10 hours one day alone trying to find an opportunity to actually take a shot.  African plains game are very skittish as they are used to running from things like lions, hyena, leopard etc.  They see you?..BOOM!  They are gone…running full speed!  I learned quickly that you have approximately 3 seconds to set and get a shot off or the animals are gone!  This is not hunting Whitetail deer from a blind!

Another thing I learned quickly about African plains animals is that they are TOUGH!  If you take a bad shot, you are tracking that animal for hours until you find him!  This is the role of the tracker and PH.  Finding that single little drop of blood on a blade of grass so you can ensure the animal does not suffer is a role of the PH and tracker.  I still have no idea how they can track like that!  I am a former Marine Sniper and have spent some time in the weeds…these guys are amazing at tracking!  I was humbled by their skills in the bush.

My friend and I had some good success.  We also found ourselves tracking for many hours after we both wounded animals and had to ensure we did the ethical and compassionate thing to do.  A decent shot on a Blesbok ended up with a four hour tracking exercise with my friend finally taking the last shot from shooting sticks at nearly 200 yards.  For me, a very large, very tough old Gemsbok Cow took 4 hours of tracking through the bush and thorns before she was finally taken.  This is real hunting!  Joe the tracker was yelling at me: “Chris!  You must run faster!  We must keep up with her!”…my next trip…I am going to work out more! 😉

Hunting at a hunting lodge typically consists of getting up early (5:30-6 am).  You then meet in the lodge to eat a hearty breakfast.  You grab a prepacked lunch that is filled with sandwiches, drinks, snacks etc..plenty of food then you head out in the truck.  You find the concession on which you are hunting that day and you start “spot and stalk” hunting.  You normally (unless you are tracking or stalking an animal) stop for a bit to each lunch about noon-is then are hunting again until dark.  Once it is dark, you drive back to the lodge and sit around the fire talking about the day.  Dinner is served (Kudu steak, Springbok chops are not uncommon!) and then back before the fire until you are ready to collapse in bed!  This is not a ‘photo safari’ experience.  It is a true hunting lodge.  No TVs in the room, no swimming pool.  You are there to hunt.

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Hunting with a real PH is an amazing experience.  As a former Marine Sniper I consider myself a decent shot and OK in the bush compared to most.  Compared to an experienced PH in South Africa?  Yeah…I had nothing on Wikus’ skills!  That guy knew every tree, bush, animal, fish, bug, snake, etc. He knew their movements and their behavior.  I peppered him with questions and he knew it all.  Stalking animals?  Unbelievable how he moved in the bush.  He could spot a single horn in the bush from 100 yards because of the ‘shine’ on the horn.  He wore shorts every day and came out of the bush bleeding every day due to the thorns.  My hunting buddy tried shorts one day…ONE DAY 😉  I was truly humbled by Wikus’ expertise and field craft.  These guys know their business.  Military experience counts for little in that world.  These guys are real pros….

billwikus

As far as rifles, I brought a Tikka T3x in .30 – 06 and a Mossberg Patriot in .375 Ruger (which broke so was not used).  My friend brought a Sako in .270 Winchester and a Ruger M77 in .416 Ruger.  The .30 – 06 and .270 was perfect for almost all of the animals.  The only animal that we really needed the .416 was the Blue Wildebeest as those guys are very tough!  My friend also used the .416 on a Warthog but the .270 would have been fine.  A good .30 or .338 is probably good for most plains games.  I would recommend a 2 x 10 scope although in the Bushveld many seem to use too much magnification and it creates challenges finding the game quickly.  Remember…3 seconds and they are GONE!

Many believe that hunting in South Africa is cost prohibitive.  While it is not inexpensive, it is not prohibitively so.  It about the same price to fly to South Africa and hunt for 7 days and take 4 animals (including Kudu) as it is to head to Texas and shoot a single Gemsbok.  All in a hunter can get a 7 day hunt which includes 4 animals (Kudu, Impala, Warthog, and Zebra) and a flight for approximately $6,500.  While this does not include gratuities and shipping/mounting of trophies it does include all lodging and three great meals a day and all your drinks.  For a lifetime experience or bucket list it is not prohibitively expensive.

My review?  If you are looking for a hunting outfitter in South Africa I cannot recommend Africa Hunt Lodge highly enough.  Ewald Ras(the owner) and Wikus (the PH) are true pros. Ewald is a gracious host and manages a great camp. I personally like tough people, and I like tough countries..this picture exemplifies my own experience hunting in South Africa!..great, tough people! (for all the ladies looking at this pic…this is Wors Rall and not me ;))

WorsRall

If you are going are going to spend your money hunting, you want to ensure you get a great experience and great value.  I cannot speak to other outfitters but I can speak to Africa Hunt Lodge.  My own experience was top shelf!  When hunting you want to be put on the game!…Wikus was incredible!  He was super competitive and while he was not the hunter actually shooting…he was focused and got frustrated when he could not get us on game when he wanted….that is the type of PH you want!  You want someone who loves the game of hunting (hunting is finding, tracking and getting ready for the shot…not actually shooting)…He loves the hunt!.  Ewald and his team were awesome.  Great food every night and great company.  If you want to hunt “easy” they are OK with that…you want to really “HUNT”? they love that!…either way…they were great hosts and it was a bucket list experience. I give Africa Hunt Lodge 5+ stars for their service and their program!!!

A Marine Sniper’s Review of the Mossberg Patriot in .375 Ruger (UPDATE) December 4, 2016

Posted by Chris Mark in Uncategorized.
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mossberg375

img_0248img_0252UPDATE…I was finally able to mount a scope and go to a proper range to shoot without driving rain.  I put a Nikon ProStaff5 2.5×10 on the rifle and headed out to properly zero the Patriot .375 Ruger “Beast” and scope at 100 yds.  My first shot was high and left (no surprise as it was only ‘bore sighted’).  I adjusted down and hit two very nice shots.  The next 2 “shifted” and I realized the scope had been loosened a bit by the recoil.  I wrenched it back down and went to shooting.  I had a great group and then noticed the shots were shifting left and high…I shot a few more groups and they kept ‘shifting’….I was a really concerned that the scope could not handle the recoil…then I touched the barrel and it was ‘smoking’ hot! WOW! That .375 Ruger (really a Ruger Compact Magnum) heats that barrel up quickly!  Here is an article on hot barrels. I had not been shooting ‘fast’ for a .308 or 6.5CM and taking 25-45 seconds between shots…but..this .375 RCM is a different animal! It needs some time to cool.

So…I let it cool down for about 10 minutes…re-zeroed and took my time shooting between rounds. (about 90-120 seconds per shot)  the last group was the last 4 shots.  img_0255About 2 MOA but…in all honesty after nearly 30 rounds on the bench I was beat to hell by this rifle!  Still…a pretty respectable group for a hunting rifle. My objective was not bullseye but grouping near bull.  As you will read in the original post...that rifle has a stiff recoil on the bench!  When the RSO at the range comes up to ask what you are shooting because “it looks like it hurts”…you know it is kicking you…All, in all..I love this rifle more every time I shoot it…still getting used to the feel but man..that LBA trigger is AWESOME!…it breaks cleanly and shoots consistently..good job Mossberg!  Bench recoil is just a part of shooting…I have shot this badboy offhand and it is a dream to handle…

Original Article…

In January, 2016 I purchased a Ruger RPR and wrote a review that has had nearly 200,o00 readers.  Given the interest and the holiday season I thought I would write a review of my newest rifle the Mossberg Patriot in the hard hitting, dangerous game cartridge .375 Ruger.

I purchased this rifle after some horse trading with my wife.  We agree that if my old Recondo friend Bill and I could go hunting in Africa she could go to Europe with Bill’s wife (and Heather’s friend) Jennifer.  The deal was set and I started looking for a rifle!  I already own a Ruger M77 Hawkeye Alaskan in chambered in .416 Ruger but was looking for something that could reach out for plains game while still taking down a Cape Buffalo. After some research I settled on a rifle chambered in .375 Ruger.  The reasons are simple.

1) The .416 Ruger and .375 Ruger have nearly identical performance as the venerable .416 Rigby and .375 H&H Magnum, respectably while being less expensive to shoot.

2) The .375 Ruger provides .375 H&H Magnum performance in a standard length action. For someone like me who is 5’7″ tall…this is important as a Magnum length action is more challenging to work effectively for a person of my stature.

3) The platforms that shoot the rifles are becoming more common and are generally less expensive.  With an understanding that I wanted a .375 Ruger over a .375 H&H Magnum I was then in the market for a rifle.

After some research I stumbled upon the new Mossberg Patriot in .375 Ruger.  I was cautious as Mossberg is not as well known in the rifle market (although certainly very well known in the Shotgun market) as some of the other players like Remington, Winchester, Savage, and Ruger.  After reading a few reviews of the new Mossberg Patriot in .375 I decided to take a closer look.  The reviews were overwhelmingly positive so I figured I should at least not discount the rifle just because they are not as well known as some other brands.  Given my experiences shooting the Mossberg 500 series shotguns I felt comfortable checking out their rifles.  Mossberg’s motto is AAA…”Attractive, Accurate and Affordable”.  I would say that is not far from the Mark (pun intended).

The first thing I noticed was the price.  I was shocked to see that the big Mossberg wasbeing sold for as little as $317 for a synthetic stock a walnut stocked Patriot in .375 Ruger was only $400 and the Laminate and Marinecote rifle was only $480!

375ammo

375 Ruger with 45/70 for comparison

This is about 1/2 the price of the Ruger M77 and roughly 1/3 the price of the Winchester Model 70 Safari Express chambered in .375 Ruger.  For $400 I calculated it was worth the risk.  If the rifle didn’t work as I liked I was out $400 and learned a good lesson.  After purchasingthe rifle I ordered six boxes of Hornady Super performance ammo shooting 250 grain bullets at 2,900fps.  For you big game hunters, this is 4,669 lb feet of energy!

I opened the box at the dealer and the first thing I noticed was the weight of the rifle.  Even my 100lb Wife commented that the rifle seemed very light.  This is indeed a very light rifle!  The listed weight is 7.5 lbs but I took this rifle home and weighed it and my scale showed it at 6.6 lbs!  This is both good and bad.  While it is great if you are carrying the rifle over long distances you have to keep in mind this is a .375 Ruger and not a .308! I fully expected this rifle would have a brutal recoil.  Not to be dissuaded I checked the rifle further  and made some observations.

While the rifle was light, it was very well made.  I chose the Walnut stock and it was clean, well crafted and mated well with the action.  The 22 inch barrel is free floating and sits in the stock that is reminiscent of a Winchester Model 70.  To be sure the rifle has some sexy lines and lives up to the ‘attractive’ part of the motto.  The walnut stock, double stock bolts common in heavy recoiling rifles as well as the open sights truly make it look like a safari rifle.

The action was very smooth and the detachable magazine worked perfectly without it sticking or jamming.  I loaded up 3 rounds and practiced chambering from the various shooting position.  The bolt cycled smoothly and were no issues chambering the big rounds and I felt comfortable taking this bad boy to the range.  The front sight comes with a standard fiber optic orange sight.  This is a nice touch on a rifle that may well be used without optics or in fading light (read on).  Finally, the patented LBA (Lightening Bolt Action) trigger was crisp and anticipating the break was easy.  While the trigger does adjust from 2 – 7 lbs I decided not to adjust the trigger until after some range time.  I mounted my Vortex Crossfire II 1 x4 onto the rifle and headed to Lake Jackson!

When I arrived at the range it was alternating between drizzling and dumping 2 inches of rain per hour.  We had an hour at a time where it was a torrential rain.  I felt this was a good opportunity to see how this rifle held up in ‘real world’ use.  While hunting in a driving rain is not preferable, it is important to understand how the rifle handles the elements and shoots so I decided to just carry on with my test.  The first 3 rounds fired at paper at 100 rounds were solid.  It held about 1.3 MOA. Given that this was the first 3 rounds from the rifle and in bad shooting elements, I felt this was a solid group to prove the rifle was accurate.  I then sat down to begin ‘zeroing’ the rifle.  Now…about that recoil.

As all shooters understand..physics dictate recoil.  For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  In short, if you push a 250 grain projectile at 2,900 fps, the rifle will be pushed backward with an equal amount of force.  Let me be clear.  Unless you like hard recoiling rifles this rifle is not fun to shoot from the bench.  I am not recoil sensitive and have some hard recoiling rifles.  This rifle packs a punch on the bench.  While the .375 Ruger is a hot round, the Patriot is a light 6.6 lb rifle.  For comparison, the Winchester Model 70 Safari Express in .375 Ruger weighs 9lbs.  How much of a difference in recoil does this 2.4lbs make?  Here are some calculations.

Using the ChuckHawks recoil table the .375 Ruger shooting 270 grain bullets at 2,840 FPS in a 9lb Rifle has the recoil of 17.3 fps and 41.2 lb ft of energy.  This puts higher than a .375 H&H Magnum and a .338LM shooting 225grains at 3,000fps.  Using the calculator provided at ShootersCalculators.com I was able to reverse engineer the findings and calculate using a 6.6lb Rifle instead of a 9lb Rifle.   Both ‘impulse’ (fps) and energy of the recoil increase nearly 27% to 23.44fps and 56.38ftlbs of energy.  This puts the .375 Ruger in a 6.6 lb rifle in the territory of the .416 Rigby in a 10lb rifle and greater than both the .375 Weatherby Mag in a 10lb rifle and .375 Ultra Mag in a 8.5 lb rifle.  Needless to say, shooting more than 10 rounds from the bench is an exercise.  I put 30 rounds down range yesterday and my shoulder is pretty sore today.  Below is a super slow motion video of my brother in law shooting the .375 from a bench.  Bill is about 185lbs and these are 250 grain bullets.

After shooting 3 ‘zero rounds’ the rain increased to the point where the scope was virtually useless.  I removed the scope and decided to put the open sights to use on the steel targets.  I alternated between offhand shooting and modified bench shooting.  The rifle was amazingly accurate with open sights.  The orange fiber front sight allowed me to quickly and accurately place the front sight post on the target.  The LBA trigger is a dream.  From the outside, it resembles the Savage AccuTrigger but I don’t know if the inner workings are similar.  Either way, it broke perfectly and had very little play.  Mossberg did a great job with the LBA trigger.

From the offhand I was able to hit a round 10 inch AR500 target cleanly at 100 yards, cycle the bolt and fire another round to hit the target cleanly within 2.5 seconds.  This, to me, is an indication of a very solid rifle.  It cycled effortlessly and chambered perfectly even in the deluge at the range.  I feel comfortable that I could quickly take multiple shots at a charging Buffalo and hit the target.  Over and over I was dinging targets on the pistol tree as well as the gongs and other targets at 100 yards with the open sights.  Needing to give my shoulder a rest after 30 rounds I asked some of the other Scout/Snipers and Recon Marines if they wanted to shoot the rifle.  We put about 60 rounds through the Rifle in a couple of hours.

All who shot the rifle were impressed and were able to hit accurately on gongs as small as 6 inches at 100 yards with open sights.  The common comment was that the trigger was very nice, the rifle was light and very accurate.  One of the Snipers commented that the rifle was very light but he felt it would be a great mountain gun to take into Montana and Wyoming to hunt Elk and Moose.  Most of the shooters felt that the recoil was on par with the .416 Ruger I brought that was pushing 400 grain solids. After putting 30 r0unds down range in various positions I feel fully confident taking this rifle on my South African hunting trip in 2017.  While not a controlled feed action, the action of the Mossberg was flawless even when cycling rounds quickly.  The magazine is a nice touch and makes reloading easy.

I took the rifle home and cleaned it and checked it for any wear or loose parts given that it was wet and we fired 60 rounds in a short period of time.  The rifle held up as I would expect from a quality firearm.  Cleaned up easily and there was no separation from the stock and the bolt and action were still firmly matted to the stock with no loosening.

375pichor

Overall, my impression is that Mossberg has hit it out of the park with the Patriot rifle!  For the price I cannot envision getting a dangerous game rifle with the features available in the Patriot.  It is good looking, well constructed rifle that shoots like a dream and is very accurate.  I think of some of similar priced rifles I have purchased in my younger years and they were light years behind what Mossberg is producing today.

Here are my ratings.

1) Fit and Finish- B (A for the price but a $400 rifle should not compare to a $1,500 rifle!)

2) Accuracy – A

3) Ergonomics – A

4) Recoil – C (it will remind you that it is a lightweight dangerous game rifle)

5) Value- A+ (simply cannot see a better rifle for the money)

If you are looking for a holiday gift for your significant other or simply a new large game hunting rifle, take a look at the Mossberg Patriot.  It is an impressive rifle that is sure to change the game!

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