Armed with a 125ft/lb, .357 calibre Evanix Rainstorm, Jim Chapman attempts to stalk within 75 yards of South African springbok…
I’d flown out to South Africa for a couple weeks of hunting with my friends Rob Dell and Andrew Myers, professional hunters operating out of the Eastern Cape and based on Rob’s 10,000-acre estate. We pioneered ‘big bore’ airgun hunting in South Africa back in 2004; and Rob and Andrew cater for two types of airgun hunting safaris.
The first is to bring your ‘standard calibre’ air rifle to hunt pigeons, guinea fowl, hyrax and other small game/pests during downtime from hunting bigger game on the plains with your centrefire. The second is to bring your bigger bore air rifles… and hunt bigger game!
Over the past decade, we’ve been monitoring our results; doing post mortems, and examining rifle/ammo performance on various species of game. We’ve concluded that air rifles in the 100 to 250ft/lb power range are good for duiker, steenbok and springbok. For impala, warthog and bushbuck – plains game – rifles should be pushing out in the region of 400ft/lb.
We believe that the mid-calibre – that is to say .303 to .357 – air rifles generating 100 to 150ft/lb are perfect for the smaller antelope (obviously when taken at the appropriate ranges). I’ve used my Quackenbush .308 calibre – which shoots cast bullets – to take duiker, steenbok and springbok at more than 100 yards. So based on this experience, I felt that springbok would be suitable quarry for my Evanix .357 (9mm) Rainstorm. At 125ft/lb (over 21 shots), it’s slightly lower-powered by comparison with my Quackenbush. So as I’d be using conventional diabolo pellets – albeit 77.6-grain JSBs – I decided that the responsible thing to do would be limit my range to within 75 yards.
That’s easier said than done, mind you. The ubiquitous South African antelope, springbok make, in my opinion, great airgun quarry – difficult enough for a firearm hunter to take at 250 yards. Trying to get within 75 yards is therefore the airgunner‘s ultimate hunting challenge.
As with any herd animal, you need to be strategic in how the animal is approached; there are many sets of eyes and ears on alert. Additionally, you need to play the wind and hope a baboon sitting in a tree a mile away doesn’t start barking an alarm. I’ve had more than one stalk blown by these watchdogs of the primate world.
The .308 and .357 airguns I’ve brought to South Africa in the past were set up to shoot cast lead bullets, largely because there were no proprietary pellets in those calibres. JSB make a .357 waisted roundhead, however, and these 77.6-grain pellets can consistently print inch groups at 75 yards from the Rainstorm. I zeroed the Evanix at 50 yards, which meant the POI was around three inches (75mm) low at my maximum-take range of 75 yards.
Intent on a springbok hunt, we picked up a small group of feeding antelope – with a large ram among them – in the valley through our field glasses. In the direction they were moving, we knew we could hike, unseen, around a ridge and intercept the herd. The hunt was on…
We located into an area covered by a carpet of short grass and elephant thorns, dotted with umbrella-shaped trees, pushing ourselves back into a thicket for added cover. Rob whispered that he saw the first animal crest the hill behind us – a smaller ram was leading the herd and I was concerned that the light breeze might carry our scent to the lead animals before I had a shot at the bigger ram.
At 60 yards, the small ram suddenly stopped grazing, presenting me with a quartering broadside shot. But what to do? Take it now, while I had the opportunity, or wait until the larger beast came within 75 yards?
Rather than risk drawing a blank, I opted on taking the smaller, yet still respectable, ram; I wanted biltong – cured meat – on the rack, rather than horns on the wall! I had the shooting sticks set up, but was unfortunately in a sitting position, so would have been busted had I tried to stand up to use them.
Instead, I grabbed one of the legs and formed a shelf with my thumb to brace the rifle. With the tree behind the small ram already ranged at 75 yards, I gave the crosshair a little elevation and slowly stroked the Evanix’s trigger…
The sound of a solid hit drifted back as the springbok kicked up into the air and bolted forward a few paces in its final death throes. The whole herd ran behind a stand of thornbrush and out of sight as they flowed down the hillside.
I broke cover and found the ram piled up, just a few paces from where he’d been standing as my shot had impacted. The pellet had taken him a bit higher than I’d intended, but still double-lunged him with a complete pass-through; as clean a kill as you could wish for on an antelope. It was a good trial run for my next trip – when I’d be aiming to drop that bigger ram!