The M’Bogo Project
By Jeremy D. Clough
Published In The GUNS Magazine 2012 Special Edition
Competition and the simulators at shooting schools all have one very basic question that they’re trying to answer — can you deliver? Not on the square range, but with the clock running, people watching, someone shooting Simunition rounds at you, can you deliver? When it counts, can you control yourself long enough to solve your problem? Defensive shooting doesn’t lend itself to dry runs: the crucial element of pressure (and the ability to prevail under it) can’t always be accurately reproduced in a controlled environment. Which brings us to hunting — specifically, African hunting.
African hunting is not like other hunting. More than any other place, it inserts the element of self-defense into what, in other circumstances, is only a matter of sport. Here in the South, where I live, whitetails are where it’s at. No doubt they can be challenging, but if you miss a deer, your only consequence is getting laughed at, or perhaps going hungry. Not so with something like a Cape buffalo — M’bogo in Swahili — the “Black Death” of Africa that still kills something like 200 people a year. At a ton or more on the hoof and devilishly hard to stop in a charge, facing one at close range presents the same question as the Funhouse at Gunsite: can you deliver when it counts?
This idea of hunting as an analog to defensive shooting isn’t original with me. Founding fathers of handgunning, such as Elmer Keith, Super Vel’s Lee Jurras and Col. Jeff Cooper all went overseas to face dangerous game. “The issue,” as Col. Cooper said of bullfighting, “is courage.”
Because of the very real element of risk, however, it’s something you should prepare for well in advance. That’s how I found myself looking for a large-caliber bolt gun; one that could be used on dangerous game in Africa, but which I could also use here in the States, so that when the time came to go overseas, the rifle would be an old friend with plenty of miles on it.
I initially started looking at calibers that start with a “4,” which let me studiously ask more experienced hunters questions like, “Is .416 Rigby too much for whitetail?” Ultimately, however, I came around to the .375 H&H Magnum. While there’s no denying the larger bore rifles are mighty stoppers — the .460 Weatherby, .505 Gibbs and .600 Nitro Express come immediately to mind — they also tend to have rainbow-like trajectories. While stunningly effective for the close-quarters combat, for which they were intended, they suffer in comparison at longer ranges. The .375, on the other hand, hits just under 2″ high at 100 yards, dead on at 200 and just under 8″ low at 300.
The availability of ammo was also a consideration. Initially introduced by famed British gunmakers Holland & Holland, their eponymous .375 round has been around since 1912. Parenthetically, it’s also one of the first of the belted magnums and the 7mm, .300, .338, .458 and other belted magnums are all based on its case. While ammo is by no means cheap, it’s at least available — probably more so than .380 ACP, at the moment — and can be found in the sort of out-of-the-way places it tends to be used.
I used Leupold’s VX-7 riflescope on the big Kimber, mounted in Talley
quick-detachable rings. The 1.5-6x magnification of the VX-7 makes it
useful for short and intermediate range shooting, such as would be
expected with dangerous game, and the heavy duplex crosshairs make
them quick to pick up.
The Caprivi uses a stout magnum-length version of Kimber’s 8400 action.
Both glass and pillar-bedded, the stock also has two steel crossbolts to
reinforce the stock, a classic touch often seen on heavier-caliber rifles
such as the Caprivi—and .375 H&H is the smallest caliber it comes in.
The Caprivi comes with a 3-position “wing” safety that, in the rear position,
locks the bolt closed. In the middle position, the rifle is on safe, but the bolt
can be cycled, while forward, which reveals a small red dot at the rear of the
safety armature, indicating the rifle is ready to “fire.”
With this decision made, I turned to Kimber’s Dwight Van Brundt. An accomplished African hunter (his book, Born a Hunter, is superb), he recommended Kimber’s Caprivi, a .375 bolt rifle built on the magnum-length version of their 8400 action.
In the due course of time, the cardboard shipping box arrived at my dealer, and out the big gun came. Complete with express sights, stock crossbolts and a barrel band sling swivel, it carried all the hallmarks of a classic safari gun. While the AA walnut stock itself was a touch lighter in color than I had expected, it was well-proportioned, with finely cut 24 LPI checkering on the pistol grip and wrapped around the fore-end, and a flawlessly-joined ebony fore-end tip. A pancake-style cheekpiece rose from the left side of the stock, and the butt was crowned with a Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad — for which I would learn to be grateful.
I held it to my shoulder, getting accustomed to the sights. The front is an eye-attracting white bead, surrounded by a removable hood, and the rear is the traditional shallow “v” shape. The idea is simple: put the dot in the V on top of whatever’s coming at you. While the first leaf is well regulated for 100 yards, there are two other “blank” flip-up leaves that can be fit by your gunsmith for whatever ammo/distance combination you desire.
The barrel itself, like the rest of the gun, is finished in a business-like matte black, and mates with the magnum controlled-feed action. For those unfamiliar with the terminology, bolt-action rifles are generally described as either “push feed” or “controlled feed.” Push-feed rifles are those that, as the bolt is driven forward, free the cartridge from the magazine and drive it into the chamber, where the extractor then snaps over the rim of the cartridge — essentially the way an AR-15 feeds. Controlled feed, however, is where the cartridge rises up underneath the extractor as it is fed, staying constantly controlled by either it or the magazine, and never loose to do as it will — much like an 1911.
Considering the severe consequences of a misfeed on a dangerous-game rifle, controlled feed is a feature greatly to be desired.
The bolt is cycled with a simple knob on a straight, barely-tapered stem, and the rear of the bolt has a 3-position “wing” safety that, in the rear position, locks the bolt closed. In the middle position, the rifle is on safe, but the bolt can be cycled, while forward, which reveals a small, red dot at the rear of the safety armature, which is “fire.” The magazine has a steel baseplate with a latch inside the triggerguard and holds four rounds, which can be topped off with one in the chamber for a total of five rounds in the gun. Twin steel crossbolts in the stock are added for strength, and the rifle is both pillar and glass bedded.
Since my usual rifle work centers around guns used for defensive
work than hunting, I’m much more accustomed to the .223 (left)
and .308 (middle) than the bestial .375. While there are rounds that
kick much, much harder, the .375’s recoil taught me some painful
lessons about shooting the more potent calibers.
The Caprivi features a controlled-feed action, where the cartridge rises up
underneath the extractor as it is fed, staying constantly controlled by either
it or the magazine, and never loose, which could cause a malfunction.
Considering the severe consequences of a misfeed on a dangerous-game
rifle, controlled feed is a feature greatly to be desired.
Talley provided a pair of their excellent quick-detach rings for the Caprivi.
Operated by a thumbscrew, the actual lever can be regulated on the
mounting bolt so that the lever is out of the way, and so you can tell
at a glance if it’s tightened down or not.
Iron sights are the classic shallow-v express sights, which are designed
to be used at close range and in a great hurry. While the first of the three
leaves is regulated for roughly 100 yards, the remaining two are left
blank so they can be regulated by a gunsmith for whatever range/
ammunition combination you desire.
The Ouch Factor
All very interesting stuff that fascinates many of us, but the burning question I had was, what’s it like to shoot? Having been provided by Hornady their 270-gr. softpoints in standard and Superformance guise, as well as their 300-gr. DGX dangerous-game loads, I adjourned to the range, where I first shot the .375 and learned a very basic, somewhat painful lesson. Frankly, in shooting a box or two, the rifle beat me up. Having spent most of my formative rifle-shooting years behind an AR, I’m used to getting a hard cheek weld on the rifle stock, bearing straight down on top of it. The problem with doing that on a serious-caliber rifle is that the butt of the rifle, relative to you, is staying relatively stable when the gun goes off, while the muzzle is coming up hard. If your face is in the middle when the gun snaps upwards, well, that pale green bruise on your cheekbone will go away with time.
And if you were wondering about the purpose of having the sling stud mounted on a barrel band instead of the fore-end, that has to do with recoil too — can you imagine having the web of your hand pressed forward against a sling swivel on the fore-end when you uncork a couple tons of muzzle energy? Much better to have it there on the barrel, up and out of the way.
An email to Van Brundt helped me refine my technique — lean in from the side, not from the top — and back to the range we went, where I put 80 rounds downrange, most of it from prone, with no real discomfort. Gone was the feeling of taking a couple rounds’ worth of jabs in the boxing ring, and the headache with it.
With express sights, stock crossbolts and a barrel band sling stud,
Kimber’s Caprivi carries all the features of a classic African rifle.
Available in .416 and .458, Jeremy selected the more versatile .375
H&H Magnum, intending to use it as an all-around hunting rifle as
preparation for hunting in Africa — some day.
The Talley rings mounted on a proprietary pair of bases, one mounted
on the forward receiver ring, and one mounted aft. Note the actual
mounting portion is buttressed by a shelf on the front and back to
keep the rings from moving under the .375’s considerable recoil.
Both the fore-end and the pistol grip of the Caprivi’s AA walnut stock
come with fine 24 LPI checkering.
The Caprivi’s AA walnut stock also features a pancake-style raised cheekpiece.
The Caprivi holds a total of five rounds, with one in the chamber and
four in the magazine. The steel floorplate of the magazine is held in
place by the latch in the front of the triggerguard.
Since I essentially viewed shooting the .375 as training for hunting, I also worked on immediately cycling the bolt after the shot. The only complication I experienced was that with the magazine completely full (four in the mag after firing the one in the chamber), it required a hard push from the rear to strip out the top round — which reminds me of a friend’s description of the Mauser action; the harder you run it, the better it responds. Subsequent rounds, however, the rifle cycled much more smoothly.
By this time, I was no longer using just the express sights and had installed a Leupold VX-7 1.5x6x24mm scope. Designed for the same sort of work as the Caprivi, the magnification is low enough to be useful at über-close ranges where things are fast, ugly and screwed up by high magnification, but can also be cranked up high enough to work at longer distances. Equipped with the magnetic flip-up scope covers that came with it and mounted in Talley quick-detach rings, the VX-7 is fast and easy to use, with heavy duplex crosshairs designed to be picked up quickly.
The rings, while a little complicated to install the first time (if you doubt your ability, call a gunsmith), are very handy and very secure. Using a serrated thumbscrew, the rings mate with well-buttressed mounts on the fore and aft receiver rings, and allow the scope to be removed and reinstalled relatively quickly with no significant loss of zero. While I did no formal repeatability test, I removed and reinstalled the scope promiscuously, and never had trouble hitting what I was shooting at. The thumbscrew levers can be indexed, and I chose to index both of mine about 6 o’clock, so I could tell at a glance if they were tight or not.
On the range, from prone, I was able to post 5-round groups at
100 yards that went around 2″ or so, with the 300-grainers hitting
a few inches lower than the 270s. Not spectacular rifle work, and
probably well below the gun’s capability, but not bad for a gun
that gets your attention when you shoot it.
The front sight has a bold white dot, protected from glare by a removable
hood. As with all express sights, it mates with a shallow v-shaped rear.
While most of the Kimber rifles are checkered at 20 lines per inch
(LPI), the Caprivi has wrap-around checkering in the finer 24 LPI pattern.
On the range, from prone, I was able to post 5-round groups at 100 yards that went around 2″ or so, with the 300-grainers hitting a few inches lower than the 270s. Not spectacular rifle work, and probably well below the gun’s capability, but not bad for a gun that gets your attention when you shoot it. The entrancing thing about the .375 is that, while it is a serious caliber, it’s not quite as overpowering as some others — witness, for example, the .505 Gibbs, legendary for its brutal recoil — and it draws you into a conviction that, if you practice enough, you can master it.
True to my intent, I took the Caprivi out into the field this year during deer season, where I saw absolutely nothing, and was therefore unable to end the debate between my friends about whether the .375 would blow a deer apart, or if there wasn’t enough material in a deer to make the bullet do anything really exciting.
My last day out was right after Christmas at a friend’s lease, where it had snowed. Slinging the rifle over my back, I had climbed up into a blind in the bend of an old road, where I could see down it in both directions. I waited patiently as the snow blew in sideways until it was getting near dark, when I finally took the scope off, putting it in my pack, and climbed down the wooden ladder. Stepping carefully, around the heart-shaped hoof prints that I knew were deer tracks, I began to stalk slowly down the far end of the old road, eyes wide open, every sense alert, ready to snap the rifle up and deliver.
It was a long way from Africa — but you know what they say about the journey of a thousand miles.
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