Fauna and Weaponry of Another Age: The Tools and Range of The Megafauna Hunter
Original posting by the author: http://www.morrisonarms.com/2014/07/faun...gafauna-hunter/
ďMegafaunaĒ is a broad term, covering a swath of creatures the lowest published threshold for which is 45 kilos, or 100 pounds. I do not use the term so broadly. When I refer to Megafauna, I mean to say creatures that can reach 500 kilos, or 1,100lbs, or predators of far more modest mass the 1,100lb plus creatures fearÖ Really, any creature that commanded respect in the Pleistocene, the direct descendants of whom remain at large today, are Megafauna to me. Prime examples Iíve hunted are the Wood Bison, Bears, Cape Buffalo, Northern Timberwolves (yes, it is a distinct subspecies, more later), the African Lion, Wildebeest, Eland perhaps, the Great Cervids of the North though I hesitate to include them, and in six monthís time the White Rhinoceros and African Elephant. Iíve been within range of more, such as the Black Rhinoceros in Zimbabwe, Hyena, Cheetah, the Jaguar in the Amazon, and the Grizzly Bear often in summer at work. These experiences, like the inextinguishable fire of imagination inside a boy, have kindled an interest and appreciation for creatures and rifles of a different age in me. Many say they were born a hundred years late in our pursuit, for me, I do believe the figure is about 40,000. This is confirmed by my awe at the images in and the Chauvet Cave of France, on which I just enjoyed a vivid documentary. Look this up if you do not know of it, it is precise art, renditions of the great beasts of the Pleistocene, of a beauty and precision that not only makes you wonder at our own species, but those depicted. The art was made at a time when the possibility of being trounced in the middle of your torchlight art session by a Cave Bear, Lion, Wolf, or Hyena deep in an a cave inhabited by beasts, not humans, was a real possibility. But I digress, my apologies my imagination is burning.
Weapons for hunting monsters have always been a key point of interest for me, again, since I was a boy. Now before I proceed, I should clarify, I use the term ďMonstersĒ with endearment and appreciation; no vilification construed or intended. In fact if anything I use the term as a compliment for creatures commanding respect on an order your garden variety game does not. You see, I love monsters, and my world wouldnít be complete, or the same, without them. Now, on the subject of monster weapons, my first, in my own mind, was a Crossman Pumpmaster 760 pellet gun. I set forth to the woods on the farm, armed with my trusty Crossman, on a frosty Christmas morning seeking my monsters. Admittedly, my monsters were smaller back then. The humble crow, jet black, highly clever, was my nemesis on our farm. The pigeons that lined the chicken barn eaves were the plains game. Quickly, the crows and I experienced a bit of an arms race; in short order they came to understand the range of my Crossman. My first rifle, a Cooey Model 60 from my grandfather and likely my first true monster rifle, leveled the stage. Now, I chased the first of many predators I would and continue to hunt; the for the time, fearsome Coyote.
Fast-forwarding to university, for one of my extra credits I took an Archaeology course. This put me in the interior of British Columbia on a dig, where I unearthed an approximately 8,000 year old fragment of a massive biface spear point, its age judged by an ash layer from eruption of known age. The point was roughly hewn basalt, and startlingly large being about 3/4″ thick at the base, and Iíd found only the tip. I held it and stared at it for a long time, with the reverence one gives to an old Colt revolver wondering where it had been, what it had done, with whom, and how it ended up here. The story I found in my hands however was far deeper and more impressive than any Coltís. This was an instrument of survival, from a world truly filled with monsters, a bygone age unknown to most citizens of Earth today. When that point was made, one faced a real possibility of meeting a monster in the night, and repulsing it at scantly more than arms length with a shaft and jagged piece of stone. Perhaps more likely, if determined it couldnít be repulsed. The passed down experiences of the survivors are evolutionarily why we are afraid of the dark and rustles in the bushes. More interesting yet, though on the tail end of the epoch that biface point could have been made to hunt massive Pleistocene prey, found then in quantities that only those who have seen the open plains of Africa could scantly imagine. Well, lets just say I couldnít leave such things to the imagination.
When I was a married, though still childless young man, I decided I had to go to Africa, though first Iíll get to why. I had spent cumulative months in South America and the Amazon in particular, trying to earn interesting livings with meager success. The fire for Amazon exploration, which took me to some of the most remote areas Iíve been to date, was founded in a particularly humble place; the Vancouver Aquarium. There is an Amazon exhibit there that absolutely lit my imagination ablaze with giant fish, Piranhas, giant snakes, and Caiman. My first foray to the Amazon came at the twilight of my teenage years. I rode a riverboat carrying cargo up river from Manaus, Brazil, to Iquitos, Peru, and ultimately I ended up in the Colombian Amazon around Leticia. This was before Iquitos was accessible any other way than by water and air, an island of civilisation in the Amazon. If we meet, ask me sometime about Gerald, the American bar owner stranded there by choice. He made a cameo in ďThe Motorcycle DiariesĒ as a wealthy card player on an Amazonian river boat, to which I found myself yelling at the TV, ďI know that guy!Ē. Thatís another story and while his food breeds monsters by morning, he was a stellar fellow and no monster. None with more than two legs were found anywhere near the towns.
In Peru and Brazil I forayed into the jungle, slept there in a hammock being woken in panic to Howler Monkeys, the loudest animal on earth. I choked on the bugs, fished and ate the fish, I shook scary things out of my boots in the morning, I walked amongst the giant trees and growth, and I sought the monsters of my childhood dreams. I actually found a few, with help from the locals. Black Caiman, I went on a hunt for with some tribesmen. I use tribesmen in a liberal sense as truly, they were pure-blooded Amazonians, but their culture was long since modernized with outboard motors and Portuguese. And of course Coca Cola. Now, the way they hunted Black Caiman, actually a large crocodilian that can reach the same proportions as Nile Crocodiles, yet more robustly built, startled me and may surprise you. I canít blame you for questioning what I just said there, in regards to the Black Caimanís proportions, though it is true: A 13 foot Black Caiman studied was found to have ďa considerably heavier and longer skull than a 16 foot Nile CrocodileĒ, I found the source through Wikipedia though I didnít need to see a scientific journal to confirm what Iíve witnessed just outside my canoe. Iíd be happy to point you to the journal however so you can check for yourself.
This is the Exact Same Flooded Forest in Which the Caiman Were Hunted at Night.
Now I wasnít filled out as a teen, but I felt bloody big among those Amazonians, this sensation was quickly rectified when I saw Black Caiman in the water and how these little fellows went about hunting them. Seeing a largely naked 130lb man put a flashlight in his mouth and poise on the bow of a canoe, ready for what, I did not know, had me quite intrigued. Then as we glided through the flooded forest at night by paddle, I saw red dots all over on the water. Black Caiman eyes, I was told. Well that was interesting. The sounds of the Amazon jungle at night are surreal, pleasantly quiet in the depths of the dark, a subdued orchestra of insects and rustles. By dawn it swells to an absolute cacophony of millions birds, insects, and monkeys attempting to out sing each other. We hunted in the fairy tale background melody of the night, cloaked in the oppressive humidity that renders the dark air under the jungle canopy thick and fluid. Massive, limbless trunks glided past as we moved in utter silence less for the odd clunk of a hand hewn and water logged paddle on the canoeís hull. Unknown and unseen large insects landed from time to time on your person, always in an interesting place given silence and no movement was demanded, especially of the guest on board. These distractions were not enough to break my intense curiousity at how this was all to play out.
Intently watching the tiny man on the bow, whose actions to come were not explained to me in the slightest, I noticed the paddles stopped and we glided in a helmless drifting arc. I wondered where the gun, spear, or weapon of any sort was, as I hadnít seen any, the fellows in Peru had used an ratty old single shot shotgun, of an obscure gauge Iíd have to check my diaries for. The little man tensed, and before I could register what was going on, he tipped off the bow and all hell broke loose. The canoe rocked violently as he departed, my first thought being I did not want to be in the waters of the Rio Negro (Black River, the North fork of the Amazon) with monsters at night in a foreign jungle, no matter how good the tale. My second, once I assessed the canoe to be stable, was there was an ungodly amount of thrashing occurring in the water. The canoe roughly surged along side a rolling, churning mass in the black water, very little light was available to make out what was happening, I was starting to think something had gone amiss. The other men reached over the side as the thrashing calmed and did something unseen. Within moments, the Black Caiman was reefed into the canoe upside down, literally sliding across me, and I had no idea which end was which. Water was everywhere, gushing over the gunnels, and streaming off the beast. I donít like to swear, and I donít remember my words that night, but I bet there was a four letter one or three included. I was to find its jaws were tied, along with its legs over its back with cord lassoes purpose pre-tied for the task, and if its throat was stroked it remained curiously calm less for the odd vicious slap of a large heavy tail. Stranger still, the Caiman was transported back to shore live, and the business took place at camp. Until youíve had a live dinosaur at your feet in a canoe saddled to the gunnels, and three lithe Amazonians yelling unintelligible excitement, you havenít been truly confused.
That was my first Amazonian monster experience, and I was to learn that canoe filling reptile was a small one, larger ones were towed back in the water, presumably killed at the site of capture, to this day I donít know how. Missing fingers and massive scars on many of the hunters and fishermen read like a book on my privileged and soft farm upbringing, that back home I held in some regard. There were more monsters to meet in the Amazon, a giant predatory fish called Pirarucu that I would witness step outside its food chain and take a warm blooded creature from the surface, Anaconda, and Jaguar all ranged from interesting to subdued by nature of my encounters with them. Jaguar, had I been there a hundred years before and witnessed them hunting the jungle in any numbers, likely could have taken the cake. Sadly however the only Jaguar I saw in the Amazon was being reared by a German woman who had set up a conservancy in the Peruvian Amazon, almost an animal shelter just of much wilder specifications. An orphaned Jaguar cub had been dropped off, itís been over a decade since I heard the story, but I believe it was by the poachers of the mother. This woman quickly built a habitat for it, and foreign donors to her project have continually expanded it over the years. I watched it eat live prey, and of all the big cats Iíve seen this one has my utmost respect. Its head has the breadth and stoutness of a bear, its teeth unnaturally large compared to the Lion Iíve tracked and hunted since. It makes me think of a Leopard on steroids, with a far larger head and substantially more muscle mass. It doesnít take a lot of imagination to realize the power of such a beast. However in the end given the tame circumstance of my meeting the Jaguar, nothing could compete with that night in the flooded forest.
Then, came Africa. Africa held everything I had ever dreamt the World of Monsters to be in near entirety. It is quite simply, as good as it gets. The Pleistocene is alive and well in Africa, as nearly every contemporary and equivalent of the Ice Age beasts of North America and Europe is still present there. Aside from the Great Bears that is, which never took to the climate and more importantly, didnít evolve as the niche was filled by others. Elephants to match the Mammoths, Rhinoceros in two species to match the Wooly Rhinoceros, Hyenas, the Big Cats who need no introduction, the Hippopotamus and its great tusks and bad attitude, the fully proportioned living dinosaur that is the Nile CrocodileÖ Giant Hogs and Gorillas in the jungles, the Gorillas undeniably humanoid though far more powerful and mysterious, they remained so unknown a giant population of 125,000 Lowlands previously unknown to science was only discovered in 2008. Then of course the numerous and often fierce smaller primates such as Baboons, Chimpanzees, and BonobosÖ Syncerus Caffer, the Cape Buffalo, leading smaller Bovids, to round out the list. This run on inventory leaves out entirely all the poisonous, and infectious aspects of Africa, such as the Black Mamba for things that slither, numerous nasty insects, and most terrifying the things you canít even see. This is the home and flagship continent of Ebola, Malaria, and HIV amongst numerous other ailments. This is the place of a monster enthusiastís dreams. Pick your favourite fantasy, adventure, or disaster novel and odds are, its real life parallel is alive and well lost somewhere in the Dark Continent.
Vast swaths of Africa remain little changed from as they were 20,000 years ago, in the Pleistocene. Donít get me wrong, deserts have shifted, jungles have flourished and vanished into grassland, and seas have risen, but the changes were gradual enough to allow the Pleistocene to accommodate them and exist on into the present. Ever had an animal larger than Tyrannosaurus Rex, and every bit as dangerous, pass you in the bush at twenty yards when you didnít even know it was close by? Or been told to take your rifle when heading off for morning privacy from camp? If not, you have a ticket to book, as that my friends is living. The deeper I push into Africa the more I fall in love with it, even its dark sides. The most dangerous animal on the continent isnít particularly large, scantly qualifying as Megafauna under my criteria, but it is one hell of an unpredictable and contemptible predator of whomís ranks I call myself a member; Humans. As you venture off on your own you will encounter more problems and scares from this species than all others combined, I already have too many stories. However given we stand on equal footing amongst monsters, Iíll leave the humans out of this. They arenít particularly interesting to me anyhow, though Iím keen to meet the Pygmies in the territory of which Iíll hunt Elephant in during my winter self guided expedition to the jungles of West Africa.
Now on the subject of arms for comfort and capability in the midst of such a place, for me, there is only one. Well, two, actually. For starters, all must be a .375 Holland & Holland Magnum, and there are a good few reasons for this. It is the perfect agglomeration of trajectory, as level as a .30-06 big game load, stopping power, fully representing the lower half of the Medium Bore spectrum and defining the term for many, penetration with its 300 grain solids reaching as deep or deeper than any cartridge, and tolerable recoil. There is a reason it is the absolute standard cartridge of Africa, the .30-06 of the place. It will cleanly take anything, anywhere, anytime, though it does come up scant on insurance on some to be fair. It has saved the life of a friend and PH in Zimbabwe who typically carries a .458 Lott, he just happened to have his .375 the day he had to stop a Buffalo charge that skidded literally to his feet. Now, certainly, a .375 Ruger, Weatherby, Chatfield-Taylor, or anything launching a high sectional density bullet of similar mass at similar speed will perform the same on similar game in similar situations. An awful lot of similar there. There is no magic to the .375, nor any hype worth listening to, it is quite vanilla in all actuality. It is smaller than most expect, when they hold one, it recoils less, and makes less noise than anticipated for most as well. It is, in a word, a ďWorkingĒ cartridge. Now, as I touched upon, there is no magic. You have to do your part, as with any cartridge, and bigger is still better. Carry no illusions that a .375 H&H is as good as a .458 Lott as both kill Elephants regularly and cleanly. ďBigger is BetterĒ is an undeniable law in lethality, even for those of us including myself who prefer smaller cartrdidges, but just as the .32-20 is usurped on medium game by the .30-30, the .416s, .458s and beyond will offer greater lethality than my beloved .375, no question, even if both still kill.
A great source of my fondness for the .375 H&H is based in ubuiquity. A fellow I was introduced to thanks to a member of a Canadian forum I frequent has just completed an amazing hunt in the Central African Republic, taking one of the top all time Bongos, scoring is still out but it will be top ten apparently according to his son in law. He stated of the .375 H&H, ďWe had problems with Royal Air Maroc with lost luggage and missed flights due to incompetence. Two hunters from the US had the same problem with lost luggage and ammo, they were shooting .300 WSM and guess what, absolutely no ammo to be found in Equatorial Africa. We were shooting .375 H&H so at least our PH had ammo.Ē I myself have found .375 H&H readily on hand and for sale from Fort Nelson, British Columbia to quiet reaches of Zimbabwe. Sure, a new .375 Ruger is cheap, but a big no thank you from this hunter, as a rifle without ammunition or a contingency for it is a pretty poor club. Now, .458 and .30-06 are distant seconds to the .375 H&H in ubiquity in backwaters of the Dark Continent, once upon a time the .458 was quite popular as a ranger round, that era is sadly fast fading with the end of Kenya, Botswana, and the like. .458 Winchester nonetheless remains the single most popular professional hunter cartridge from my experience, and its lethality and still manageable recoil render it a proper monster cartridge for up close and personal work. If Iím to stray from my beloved .375s, it will in all likelihood be to a .458, albeit it in a double, yes that is another can of worms weíll delve into in a moment.
So .458 would be my second choice, as .30-06 is just too light for most of my African tasks. Being my second choice is not to say the .458 is wanting. But of course, it is more of a monster rifle than my .375s. The moral of my story around which I dance in these last couple paragraphs is the .375 H&H is the largest cartridge I can fire without anticipating the recoil. If I could shoot a .458 Lott as casually as the .375 H&H, Iíd own and use one for the Big Five and dangerous game hunting I subscribe to as my lifeís passion. Iím not the man my mother was, and sadly am not at the point of using a .458 Lott like I do my grandfatherís .30-30. Donít get me wrong, I can shoot a .458 and have done so in Africa to boot. But the apprehension I feel when sighting in turns me back to the carefree and thoughtless shooting of my .375. I am a firm subscriber to shot placement above all else, and Iíll take a good .375 hit over a marginal .458 any day. Bear in mind however these are my personal limitations, and should they not apply to you, I absolutely solute and envy your practice and constitution. Mike Iím looking at you. Finally, penetration is one of my foremost yardsticks for measuring a cartridge, and fortunately the .375 H&H and the .458s and beyond offer it in literal yards. I donít have enough .458 experience to tell you if it out penetrates the .375 with solids, but I doubt it personally. The only animal Iíve seen stop my .375 bullets without exiting was a particularly big bodied Cape Buffalo bull, and that was with expanding Barnes TSXs.
As a keen student of Bellís, shot placement, penetration, and a bullet that tracks true through a beast while doing so are damn near everything. Bell was an absolute surgeon with a rifle, I am well practiced, but I am also not him. He worked in a time and place where you made the rules, and thus used his .318, .303, .275, and .256 to great effect on the biggest animals to walk the modern earth. He was also a severe pragmatist, and I mean this as a compliment. He had to outfit his many month expeditions and carry enormous supplies of ammunition, not only were the small bore military FMJs easier to carry in bulk, they were more reliable than Kynoch Nitro Express cartridges, which were very dubious actually. They were also far cheaper, and Bell was a business man first and foremost, hence his extremely accurate records of kills. Bell was also a very slight man, though of sinewy toughness seldom found today, and he found the light rifles by far the most comfortable on his treks. He also had an understanding of Elephant anatomy and reaching it with a rifle nobody will match ever again. I can study the diagrams and anatomy, even Bellís own drawings on shot placement in an old edition of his work I have, and get pretty decent at judging the spots. Yet Iíll still shoot for the heart when I run into a bull in the jungle at a handful of yards, transitioning to the Bell Shot only as an emergency measure. The trouble is, no matter how much I study, the real world with real jungle, real shot angles, the real and severe possibility of being charged and trampled, the smell and sound of an Elephant bull yards away and you canít see him, and bugs in your face changes everything about your academic envisioning of shot placement. You do the damn best you can, and for that, I choose more than Bellís .303 or .275 Rigby. Bell also enjoyed the hunting of often essentially unpressured herds, he writes of dropping bulls in succession within view of one another without much start amongst the herd. Todayís pressured Elephants present far more aggressive behavior now, often, after theyíve already hidden in the thick stuff as they know the game, and youíve pursued them in. To Bell: Iíll never be a shadow of you, and Iíd hope you could understand my choice of a bigger rifle in todayís times.
Now, on to the mechanisms employed in expelling those accelerated lumps of metal we spend so much time debating. Despite the absolute fact friends and multigenerational enemies are made in the debate of these devices, the sad truth is almost anything works. All the dangerous game has been taken with even revolvers, bows, and muzzle loaders, so the debate of best design and type of firearm is a bit overblown. Iím even more guilty than the average hunter-citizen of indulging in such over-thinking, which reminds me, I have an argumentÖ For my purposes, there is one ultimate design, with compromises as in most things, and that is the double rifle. For monster hunting proper, there is in my opinion no better tool, as with all guns if you know the rifle and if you can shoot it! The double rifle is a purpose built instrument, foolproof once closed, well less for harping of triggers, and not wasting your precious two shots too hastilyÖ Alright, it is indeed just another preference, but it is mine no question. Two rounds, dispensed with zero cycling time or break of rhythm and cheek weld is my idea of the right monster rifle. Typically after a first shot there is a lull in the action, and if you did your job, thatís the end of it less for perhaps a finishing shot on a creature descending solemnly to its final resting place. This gives you time to easily recharge to two rounds ready by stuffing the empty chamber. Full charges by dangerous game animals are rather rare except perhaps on Elephant right off the get go, and it is a highly uncommon scenario to be charged immediately after your first shot. Far more often it would be on the follow up of a wounded beast, with the hunter hopefully well prepared mentally and materially.
It is slightly easier to top off a double than a bolt action with the one round fired, though admittedly, this could scantly be deemed a proper advantage as the bolt action likely doesnít need it. The advantage in a double comes in the lightning fast handling, with zero thought required beyond shoulder-point-squeezeÖ and if that doesnít work, follow your target and squeeze againÖ Now if the second and final round hasnít solved your problem, well I salute you for going out with your boots on and a fine death. Moral of the story is hold your fire and stay calm, only letting the round go when you can be assured it will connect. This is what doubles excel at, and that moment can be awfully close. Anyone who has instinctively used a good wingshooting gun knows the feeling of an weapon and its owner meshed into biomechanical harmony. In dangerous game, you do not enjoy the volume one does wingshooting, so you never feel that repetitively well oiled machine in motion and the rhythm bird after bird. You can however feel the natural snap shot, and Iíve used it on three predators now as such, introduced by way of Lynx and crowned by way of Lion. Further, the field carry before that shot is thoughtless, being such a curt package in comparison to a bolt action, the muzzles rarely hang up on brush, and it pokes through the thick stuff as if it knows its way. There are no protrusions to grab straps, clothing, or bush, and it takes down to an arm-sized bundle for transport by vehicle during the non-hunting. It is, in a word, smooth.
All these practical reasons however dilute my true reasons for the preference, and that was touched upon in speaking of that snap shot. That is to say, I speak of the magic of a double. Yes, yesÖ but it does exist. The double is as sporting an arm as has been devised, having no military pedigree, the heavy double rifles cut their teeth in the monster-filled heydays of Africa and India. They continue to sew their formidable medicine amongst the herds of Africa, and now are found at work even in Australia and occasionally Canada, enjoying strong followings amongst like-minded professionals and enthusiasts. A double will not make you a better dangerous game hunter, it will however provide you a distinct set of advantages, a certain set of limitations, and a whole lot of hunting character. This rounds out my thoughts of arms for monsters, I suppose my future may contain a customized .450 Nitro double modified to be capable of discharging .458 Winchester Magnum in a desperate situation. Indeed, regulation will be off, but being able to sight in one barrel on a far more available chambering in a pinch would be good as gold. Yes, there are significant case spec differences, but I wouldnít be reloading the Winchester brass and splits but shoots would be swell, thatís a whole other article however. Not sure if itís even possible in my shop yet anyhow.
My Brother in His Element, One of the Greatest Monsters Iíve Met in the Bush!
Finally, what is a wild without its monsters? Nothing. The apex predators and great beasts are truly what makes a place wild, you could lead me to the best vistas in the world, and without impressive wildlife and something to be wary of, they are empty. I vacation now as I write this outdoors by the fire on Vancouver Island, perhaps the most beautiful collection of natural spectacles within a dayís driving range in all of Canada. Debatable, indeed, but Iíve seen a lot of the West side and North of this country now and this is certainly up there. However these well travelled stretches of it are empty, donít get me wrong the fishingís world class, however my wife of all people mentioned a sadness in not encountering Grizzlies on the hiking trail, as at home, she seemed to enjoy to wildness and the packing of the gun, the carriage of spray, the unknown of what might be around the bend and what that means for a place. Vancouver Island has reaches as wild as anywhere, but from my seat here, the beauty is missing something as I fly fish the rivers within easy reach of town. Alas, if one seeks true monsters, head to Africa. Even more importantly, head somewhere other than South Africa. Donít get me wrong I love the country and some of my familyís still there, it is however a tamed country, with pockets of its former splendor found in the great parks. The animals are free within those parks, but you are not, bound to the roads, tours, and your vehicle. To set foot amongst the beasts and see old Africa visit the quiet reaches of Zimbabwe, or West Africa, Mozambique I hear as well, where a man should carry a rifle to take do his morning business. It is a special sensation being amongst the true monsters and performing your everyday tasks, take my word on that. You feel alive when you reach for your rifle, knowing itís not a sentimental reflex. As for the rifle you reach for, just be sure to make it a .375 H&H.
Be Wary of Where a .375 May Lead You, Thanks for Reading Folks.
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