Bullets, recovered and otherwise, marginal shots and nasty follow ups. This article diverges slightly from the technical, to experiences and is as much about hunting in general as the .375.
Welcome to Africa…
Shortly following cleaning up my Nyati, two bullets from which will be pictured below demonstrating the foundation of my appreciation for TSXs and .375s, we were on our way back to camp via Landcruiser when we came across a positively ancient Bridled Gnu, or Blue Wildebeest. A large Elk+ sized, and incredibly tough animal, I haven’t met a PH yet who doesn’t strongly respect their tenacity and vigor. The Wildebeest is another one of those animals that just screams Africa: tails swinging, heads powerfully bobbing, seal grey with ghostly dark stripes up their sides, and they always seem to be moving- often very quickly and en masse. They have a strut and head jerking manor that is emphasized by red dusty soil coming up around their hooves. Typically herded up, this character was on his own, an old brute with weathered, battle scarred horns and the marks to go along with them.
My PH procures meat for local celebrations when requested if there is sufficient suitable game for the purpose. An old Wildebeest bull suited this purpose, a local celebration, very nicely indeed. We jumped from the Landcruiser, without words, I simply followed Jon’s rapid disembarking and mimicked his low stalk into the bush, not entirely sure what he had in mind. We made it to a nice natural blind, under an Acacia which curled over us with the trunk on our left, and the branches arching overhead, coming near the ground with leaves overhead and thorns on our right- not unlike a wave. My apologies for the emphasis, I love trees, and Africa has beautiful ones. Back to the hunt.
“Shoot that Wildebeest.” Jon commanded as he dropped his binoculars, and using the trunk of the Acacia, I complied seconds later. The range I underestimated, a typical issue for me over irons, 175 yards often looks like 100 to me in the field. I suspect in reflection the shot was 175 yards or so, and I hadn’t come to this opinion until a year after my hunt, just this fall really. More experience in Africa on the same size game has made me realize a lot of my shooting was further than I thought at the time. We hunted without rangefinders on that hunt, and frankly, I still don’t own one as I want the best it seems am I to buy one, such as the Leica range finding binos I used several months ago on my last trip to the Dark Continent. Wants and funds fail to agree on those, especially since a year from now a better model will be out no doubt; I detest technology and love its handiness…
Anyhow, the .375 shoots flat enough you’ll get away with thinking 300 yards is 200, and 200 is 100 and so forth, a benefit I described as numerical prowess in the first part of this write up. Here I can give the real world application; experienced shooters and hunters who overestimate not range, but their ranging ability; I’m that guy. The .375 makes us look good. In the case of this Wildebeest, almost too good… Like most shooting irons at slightly extended range, I am often guilty of minor overcompensation for drop that comes from a childhood of shooting irons on the farm lobbing .22 bullets into the back 40 at far flung vermin. Very few animals were hurt in the making of that line of this story and many agitated, don’t worry.
Despite under-estimating the range, I still compensate slightly high on a reachier iron sights shot subconsciously, I’m fighting it and have improved with the .375 considerably. But I digress and self serve, back to the point. At the further end of iron sights comfortable range, such as my first Wildebeest, a slight inclination upwards makes for going a good bit higher than you would like with a cartridge that shoots flat. My shot was still placed solidly fatally, and only one round was required, but my goodness if you ever want to see the damn’dest interpretation of the Starship Enterprise engaging Warp 9, double lung a Blue Wildebeest bull. From dead, unsuspecting calm to 15,000 hoof beats an hour before the bloody shot’s stopped ringing. Away my old bonus animal went, seconds earlier a heart raising addition to a fantastic hunt, suddenly a barely sub-mach speed cannonball tearing through thick jess.
Only little flecks of lung blood showed, and they weren’t reassuring, this was a very poor ending to a fantastic hunt and a letdown for my friend who needed the meat. Thank goodness I hunt with a .375… I would see what a very good, but equally barely marginal shot on another Blue Wildebeest with a .300 Weatherby and 180gr would do just over a year later, on my brother’s SCI Gold Medal bull. It turns out that lung shot on my first bull, which had Jon very concerned even if only his face spoke it, was handily fatal thanks to the 270 grain Federal softpoint easily deflating both lungs, he was running on fumes from the moment 270 grains of Federal’s cheapest left his opposite side. Even the cheap Federal soft, with all its much more violent expansion, was incredibly ‘clean’ for its lethality, a trademark of the .375 I very much appreciate. Remember that first box of .375 from Hope, BC? Well that round came from that very blue box, quite a journey it made, with no plan on my part to send it such places. I still have one round left, what to do with it… time will tell.
The exiting of 270 grains of Federal’s cheapest from the unfortunate Gnu’s side brings me to the subject of exiting bullets, and recovered ones in the .375. Of the latter in my own experience, there are very few: two actually, pictured a couple paragraphs below. I like bullets that exit, my views on terminal ballistics have about as much in common Roy Weatherby and his fragmentation theory (since modified by higher quality bullets and the passing of ‘ole Roy) as Saudi Arabia’s politics do with ours. Exits allow one more place to bleed and let in air ahead of the diaphragm, ceasing the activity of the lungs by disallowing differential pressure, a familiar concept to all of us here but worth outlining. Perhaps not an issue on deer, but a serious benefit on Wildebeest, Buffalo, Elk, Bison, large Bears and so forth. Big things, in my experience, don’t react like smaller large game with even slightly imperfect shot placement. Sometimes, all too often even, they still don’t react like smaller game even with perfect shot placement.
Reference the following photo of a Bison heart that I took this winter, the walls of the ventricles are for the most part an inch or more thick of heavy muscle, very akin to the Cape Buffalo’s heart. Those muscular walls can seal off bullet wound tracts, especially those of fragments in the case such as the 180gr Core Lokts from my brother’s .300 Weatherby experience. Cape Buffalo and other similarly sized game have frequently survived heart shots for an astounding period of time, lung shots, they can even fully recover from. Reference Ganyana, and his article “Bullet Wounds on Game: How Survivable are They?”-1-
“There is only one thing more frustrating than watching a fine animal that you have carefully stalked and shot at rushing off, apparently unharmed, and that is finding a few small flecks of blood. That sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, and the desperate hope that you, or your tracker are up to following and finding the animal. The only worse feeling comes hours or even days later when you finally concede defeat.
Over the years I have been positively astounded by the wounds which game seem to survive. The only Hartebeest I have ever shot had three other bullets in it. A.303 lodged in one lung, A 7.62 military ball recovered under the skin near the rump and a “pot leg” from a an old muzzle loader lodged in the shoulder. The animal was in perfect health as far as I could tell when I shot it. I have seen buffalo on their feet putting in a determined charge twelve hours after being hit through both lungs with a .375 solid. A buffalo cow got really otherwise with a friend’s client and afterwards in the skinning shed we found out that she had a “pot leg” in her chest that had perforated the bottom of both lungs. The wound was festering but I suspect she was actually on her way to recovery. I could go on for pages, but the fact remains that animals seem to survive the most remarkable hits from all manner of bullets and recover just fine when it just doesn’t seem possible.”
-Ganyana, of African Hunter
True large, tough game can literally turn everything you thought you knew about terminal ballistics on its head. ‘Ole Roy Weatherby deserves a nod here, with a couple choice quotes, good for entertainment value if nothing else:
A 1951 Gun Digest article:
“It doesn’t matter whether you shoot (a game animal) in the ham, the ribs, the paunch, or the shoulder; you do not have to hit the heart, the lungs, or the spine in order to kill when using a bullet that disintegrates inside his body. I recommend you try a .25-caliber bullet travelling at 4,000 fps to shoot your next game animal, whether it be deer, moose, or African buffalo.” –Roy Weatherby
“I shot him with my .257 Magnum, hitting in the front leg only, high toward the shoulder … nothing can withstand the shock of high velocity bullets, even when not hit in a vital spot.” –Roy Weatherby
You can be lulled into ambivalence and end up dismissing all game as the same; they drop to good shots, and for Roy, even to bad ones apparently (short reading reveals the man lost a lot of game, especially the big ones). A lot of good hunters hunt Deer and Moose at home all their life, go to Africa, bag some plains game animals, maybe even a Cape Buffalo that drops like mine did, and presume all lost game are the result of poor shot placement. Not true. I’ve never lost an animal larger than 100 or so pounds, and only a few below that cutoff; but there is a lot of luck and help in that statistic. I came very close to losing a beautiful Zebra stallion a few months ago, with no excuses, I pulled a shot from an impromptu rest and missed my mark; front, low shoulder. He was tough, incredibly so, and was on his feet for what I would estimate as an hour and hid himself well in jess. It would have been my first big loss in hunting (I have lost the animal I see as pound for pound one of the toughest, Impala), and my heart was crashing in preparation for that realization when we found him. Loading him up was also one of the best feelings of my hunting ‘career’ (though I pay, my wife would scoff at this pretention), though very somber, and I’m eternally grateful for the lessons he provided.
I had loaded 235 grain soft points into the magazine of my .375 instead of my usual heavier Barnes TSXs, reasoning that 235 grains was still a healthy bullet weight and Zebra likely didn’t ask for a heavy TSX. I was confronted with far, far less blood trail, pinpricks only that snaked like mad through thornbrush, following my pulled shot. Eventually even the pin pricks stopped. Had I shot one of the TSXs I’d loaded and brought instead, a pulled shot would still have occurred but tracking and lethality would have been vastly improved. That 235gr Speer Hot-Cor could have been my third recovered .375 bullet, as it didn’t exit, but I was feeling too low to want anything to do with it and following loading the stallion I merely wanted to sulk in a beer and let out a big “Phew” inside.
The following pictured pair of TSXs were discharged into my Nyati, and if you’re like me, first off you’ll note that left hand TSX. TSXs are supposed to hold together, right? Retain near 100%, no fragmentation? Well that doesn’t always happen. The one on the right actually only opened mildly, but performed beautifully, and the left had one actually fragmented slightly and lost two petals. It is actually a common sight on TSXs fired into Buffalo I’ve since learned, as they are incredibly heavy boned, Jon mentioned his high appreciation for the TSX as even if it loses all its petals, it’s a solid at the core. I was leery, commercial wisdom had told me I used TSXs thanks to (as had been my experience in the past, as well) perfect weight retention and expansion. It took me quite some time, including animals not reacting to conventional cup and lead core softs as I’d wish, to come to understand even a TSX missing ALL its petals will act favourably on game, given the remaining bullet shank acts much like a solid.
The TSX is really an expanding solid. My musings have drifted from the .375 to general bullet construction and hunting, but there is a point I assure you that brings us back on track. Sectional Density; even in the era of wonder bullets, it remains critically important, and the .375 has it in spades. That is unless you’re like me and try a 235gr soft, and combine that with a pulled shot. Seeing the petals broken off the shank of that 300gr TSX from by bull, I immediately understood why interest is fast growing for the 350gr .375 TSX in Africa, when many would deem it overkill. Even with the petals missing, a 350gr TSX weighs approximately 280 grains, plenty to get the job done reliably up to Cape Buffalo and Giraffe, shank alone. As mentioned the petals on a .375 TSX weigh approximately 70 grains, so even if all the petals shear off with “just” the 300 you’ve got 230 grains of solid going for you. They retain weight like nothing else, as well. The top TSX in the scale went into a Cape Buffalo bull, departing weight 300 grains, finished weight 300 grains. The second TSX sheared two petals, and still acted perfectly, with 297.3 grains retained weight when weighed together.
The final day of my brother’s and my hunt this October in the Limpopo we were driving not expecting to hunt even, my brother in a red shirt and others in sandals, when a nice(!) big Blue Wildebeest bull showed himself in the bush. My brother dismounted, and went into the bush with Louis to stalk in for a shot. A tall Boer and exceptionally talented and dedicated PH, Louis will go barefoot into the thorns to stalk in on exceptional animals, and he did so this time as well. He has the hyper-focus of a master at his craft, and I knew Luke was about to have a stroke of good luck. What am I saying, he’d taken another SCI Gold animal just a few days previous, he had all the luck! They got their shot, and the .300 Weatherby’s report thundered out of the jess after a pins and needles wait, inciting the rest of us to pile out of the truck. Here my respect for the toughness and tenacity of African game grew further, from an already healthy and deeply impressed reverence, to awe with this Wildebeest bull.
Shortly after tracking began, we found healthy (from our perspective, not from his) signs of a lung hit. My brother had a difficult frontal shot in thick bush, and we were all curious for clues, the strong evidence of lung hit being the first sign. Two trackers, two PH’s, and two hunters combed the jess for his beautiful bull. The only other rifle in the truck was my .375, Louis’ .458 being at camp as we were done hunting. I always travel with my rifle, even if we’re just “commuting”, and it was in my hands as I had been humbled before by how fast an animal could appear and disappear in the jess. Mostly I'll just be honest and admit I like the feeling of travelling with a good rifle, just holding it in a place such as Africa is a small pleasure. Luke stated adamantly that the shot was good. He had that same shaken and unsure look I could recognize as a feeling in myself at times following a shot and an animal that disappears. This was his first time in Africa and I really wanted to end it on a high note for him, he’s also not the most frequent hunter and this hunt meant a lot. A lost SCI Gold class bull, with the trophy fee to pay and only bloody thorns to take home, was not what I wished for him.
Tracking continued for a good while, following the brown globules formed by blood in rust red sandy African soil, with six of us working a fairly small area, he had not gone far the bush is just so thick where wounded game go; and it was thick enough where that Wildebeest started. He was literally milling among us, and with such a group in the bush and two rifles, there was concern among all of which direction fire would go if we saw him again. With rifles there was Louis’ younger brother Peter with the .300 Weatherby, myself with my .375, and my brother to take the shot if at all practicable and finish his bull personally. We heard one snort from him, very close, but it was impossible to tell where on earth he was. Wandering close with Peter, all of a sudden he showed up, it’s amazing how a massive, dark animal can just show up from nowhere a short distance away. He stood and stared, still for a couple seconds, but those seconds lasted a long time as my eyes were fixed on him and my .375 rose. Peter and I both fired instinctively, and the bull absorbed our broadside of potent rifles with a snort, spin, and that trademark Wildebeest “Warp 9, engage”.
So again, we were tracking. More blood now. Again, he didn’t go far. The end came in a narrow, tight corridor among the thorns which we were lead into by the brown globules amongst the red soil. Peter fired at the still apparently fully alive and alert Wildebeest at maybe twenty yards, no reaction, I sent Barne’s best regards to the bull. Peter was in front and out of cartridges from the .300, I tossed him my .375. The strong, big bull finally went down while turning to run again falling to a .375 H&H Texas Heart Shot. My respect. Turns out, Luke’s frontal shot was 2 inches horizontal from dropping that bull in his place and tore up a lung, I don’t want to sully North American game’s reputation but no Elk or Moose I’ve seen would have taken that shot, like that. In Africa carry a strong rifle, with strong bullets. The .375’s ability to penetrate likely proved to be the reason he dropped to it, and not the .300, though indeed the end would have come soon enough due to it too; just not right there. On a deer, even a moose, a .300 Weatherby is plenty of medicine, in Africa, I have my doubts on the bigger stuff, though I'm sure it is exceptional with bullets of stronger construction, it's just so very fast. The modest 7×57 with a bullet 5 grains lighter likely would have even done better.
OK… I didn’t make it solidly into anatomy, but a peek of what I’d like to talk about there, took this while we were cutting up a Giraffe bull in 2010. Part III we’ll discuss my rifle opinions too and really rile folks up!
Thanks for reading, that’s me and the .375 below. Be careful where a .375 may lead you.
Please see the original format and photos if desired at my website, www.morrisonarms.com, in the April archive.
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