By Ron Spomer
Let’s deal with this straight up, no punches pulled: Africa hunting suffers a bit from snob appeal. Expensive travel, expensive hunts, luxury camps and fine china. Exotic, expensive rifles, too, in weird calibers such as .450/.400 Nitro Express and 9.3x74R. Until a bunch of ugly Americans showed up.
- Nathan Richer, videographer for Ruger.
- Ken Jorgensen, director of media relations for Ruger.
- Ron Spomer, writer and photographer.
- Ruger American, “budget-priced” rifle from Ruger.
Ken arranged this hunt to prove that you don’t need an exotic rifle in a weird caliber to successfully hunt in Africa. And you don’t need a small fortune to hire an overpriced outfitter, either. The black, synthetic-stocked, push-feed Ruger American rifle chambered in plain-old .30-06 costs $449 MSRP. As for the cost of safaris, hundreds of ranchers in Namibia offer week-long hunts in the $4,000-$8,000 range. For this, you sleep in a real bed, eat off real plates, enjoy daily laundry service and usually get to bag four-10 animals, some larger than moose. Ranchers can do this because they sell the venison. Animals such as the 1,800-pound eland, 600-pound kudu, 400-pound oryx and 12-pound dik dik are hunted for meat, hides and horns, all of which can be sold. The minimal trophy fees you pay are gravy.
“Around the mid-1970s, ranchers like my dad began to realize they could produce more meat with less expense by returning native game to the range,” explained rancher and Professional Hunter Werner von Seydlitz. He manages Immenhof Guest Farm—a glorified bed-and-breakfast, 20,000-acre chunk of thorn scrub surrounded by hundreds of thousands of similar wildlife ranches. “When they began offering hunts, their income increased even more. Today, thanks to visiting hunters, native game numbers have increased by 70 percent. Our mountain zebra, which were nearly an endangered species 30 years ago, are now one of the most common animals in Namibia.”
In fact, the first restaurant meal we ate after arriving included zebra steak. Delicious. Zebra, along with virtually all other game, are sold in restaurants and supermarkets. It’s a classic example of “use it or lose it.” When wildlife has value, it’s husbanded, guarded and valued because it benefits not only itself and the land, but the humans who live on that land. Why push wildlife out to make room for domestic cattle or corn fields when you can protect and enhance native ecosystems by using the surplus they produce? North American hunters are central to the success of this system.
Nathan did his part to support Namibian wildlife by shooting an oryx. And not just any oryx—a new ranch record! It happened like this: “You want to use the .30-06?” Ken asked that morning. He’d chosen to hunt with his beloved Ruger Hawkeye in .375 H&H. “Absolutely,” I replied. “Nathan and I can share it.” I took along my own African Hawkeye in .338 Win. Mag. just in case. I needn’t have bothered.
“There!” hissed Nandi, our hawk-eyed tracker. He pointed to a coulee. Black horn tips glided just above the acacia limbs. I’d already shot a spectacular 41-inch oryx, so this was Nathan’s chance. He grabbed the Ruger American .30-06, shoved in a magazine of four Hornady 165-grain BTSP Interlocks and followed PH Vanwyk Gerber through the thorn brush. The oryx heard the crunch of sneaking feet and rushed up the far side, then stopped to get a visual confirmation. Nathan was already “on the sticks,” the plastic stock of the American steady in the fork of the shooting tripod. “Take it on the shoulder.” The shot was perfect. Living up to its reputation for toughness, the oryx raced 90 yards before falling.
The horns taped 42 inches—the longest oryx horn ever recorded from Immenhof. Nathan and Ruger’s “little” American .30-06 had started their first African safari with a bang … a big bang.
It was my turn later that day. Returning from a failed blue wildebeest stalk, I spotted a boar warthog staring from about 80 yards away, white tusks smiling. The 6.25-pound Ruger American .30-06 came up smoothly, found the mark almost automatically and delivered a terminal blow to the hog’s front shoulder. This ugly American duo was two for two.
When Ken heard the good news, he put away his .375 H&H to try for a black wildebeest with the .30-06. After a long stalk that carried him within 200 yards, Ken directed an Interlock to the shoulder of a young bull that raced about 75 yards in the red sand and gave up the ghost. Three for three. “This rifle is so light and easy to carry,” Ken said, as if he’d never tried it before. It was the fresh comparison against the heavier .375 he’d been shooting that dramatized the difference.
Like coyotes in the U.S., baboons are the omnipresent nuisance animal in Namibia. “They’re more like a coyote crossed with a raccoon with the all the discretion and control of a 14-year-old boy combined with the strength of an NFL defensive lineman,” someone once said. In short, they’re destructive.
We targeted a troop that had commandeered a waterhole. “Think you can hit one from here?” Van asked after we’d stalked to the edge of cover. Turned out I could. We counted off more than 300 steps to it.
Van was ready to place an order for a Ruger American. He actually placed it 2 days later after borrowing the rifle to take another baboon. Then, I accounted for a big male as it walked out of the thickets more than 300 yards away. Finally, Van and I called a herd of blue wildebeest out of thick thorn and snaked a bullet through intervening limbs to collect a spectacular blue wildebeest bull.
“That’s a hell of a rifle for that price,” Van told Ken. “Can I get two of them?”
At the end of the week, the Ruger American .30-06 had gone eight for eight and proved Ken’s point: Neither African safaris nor the rifles used on them need be expensive.