Take A Gun Or Rent?

An Important — And Difficult — Choice
15

For a red grouse shoot in Scotland, the Laird of the estate very generously
allowed Dave to use this 12-gauge Purdey. A new Purdey costs around
$200,000 while this 1900s-era gun is still worth $40,000 or so.

Maybe our two-year nightmare is drawing to an end. Travel abroad for hunting may once again become routine. We are blessed with wonderful hunting opportunities in North America and one could hunt a lifetime here without running out of options. But travel — new places, new sights, different game species — hold an undeniable allure.

One decision you have to make is whether to bring your own rifle, or to borrow or rent one from the guide/outfitter. I’ve done both in the past and will likely do both in the future, depending on circumstances.

Checking the sighting of a Tikka T3 .243 Dave borrowed for a red stag hunt in Scotland.
Scope is a 6x Zeiss. In Scotland, suppressors are considered standard equipment on a rifle.

The Remington 700 Dave borrowed in New Zealand had been customized
with a match-grade barrel, tuned action and trigger, and a carbon-fiber stock.

Choices

My preference is to have my own firearms. Part of the enjoyment of a hunt is preparing for it. I like the process of selecting a rifle, scope, cartridge, bullet, assembling and testing loads, tuning for accuracy and reliability, adjusting trigger pull. When the fun is done I have a rifle in which I have complete confidence. The additional cost and paperwork involved in transporting a firearm is a small fraction of the total cost and well worth it.

Bringing your own firearm does have costs and risks. It requires paperwork to be completed in advance, in some cases fees to be paid and there can be additional transportation costs. Such steps and costs don’t bother me as long as I can clearly understand what I need to do to comply.

What does worry me is the risk of loss or damage to my property. Long gun cases are distinctive in appearance and are subject to outright theft. They also seem subject to damage during transport, at least judging by anecdotal stories I see on hunting web sites. It may be the dimensions of long gun cases make them more subject to damage by automated loading equipment or it may be, as some suspect, deliberate damage by people opposed to firearms and/or hunting.

I’ve been fortunate to never have a firearm lost or damaged in shipping, but did on one occasion have my luggage with the ammunition go missing as did the other hunters with whom I was traveling. Fortunately we all had rifles chambered for common cartridges; as I recall, a .308, .30-’06, .300 Win. Mag., .375 H&H Mag. and a 7×57. The outfitter at the ranch where we were hunting had at least a box or two of ammunition for each rifle.

There was a time when renting firearms meant taking a chance on getting some moldy old military conversion with a cheap scope and 8-lb. trigger. As renting has become more commonplace, the quality of rental firearms has improved. You should check well in advance with the outfitter, of course, but the odds are you’ll get a decent rifle and scope. If you’re an experienced rifle shooter, the trigger pull will likely be heavier than what you’re used to but with a bit of dry fire, an experienced shooter can adapt.

On two African hunts Dave mostly used his own Ruger 77 Sporter in .300 Win.
Mag. with a Zeiss scope. He did a lot of pre-hunt fussing — tune the trigger to a
crisp 2.5-lb. break, sight precisely at 200 yards and check drop at ranges to 600 yards.

Dave’s preferred African ammo for the 300 Win. Mag. was Black Hills
factory loads using the 180-grain Barnes TSX bullet. Thirty-five animals
later, only three needed a second shot!

The Main Question

Personally the deciding factor is what kind of trip it is. If it’s a pure hunting trip with minimal or no side trips I’ll take my own rifle. If it is mainly a vacation with a few days set aside for hunting, I’ll borrow or rent the firearms. Remember, you are responsible for the security of your firearms. We like touring the country in a rented vehicle — keeping a rifle in the vehicle and taking it in the hotel every night is a tiresome nuisance. It may be possible to store your firearms with a dealer or your outfitter when not in use, but your travel itinerary may make this impractical.

I’ve been fortunate in being able to borrow quality firearms from the guide or host. For stag shooting in Scotland, the head gamekeeper let me use his Tikka T3 with 6x Zeiss scope, chambered in .243 Win. and shooting 100-grain Norma bullets. On another stag hunt in New Zealand, a gunmaker friend of the outfitter loaned me a Remington 700 in .300 WSM with Leupold scope. The cartridges were hand-loaded with 165-grain Barnes TTSX bullets and the trigger tuned to a beautifully crisp 2 lbs.

My best experience was on a Scotland estate hunt for red grouse on the “Glorious 12th” of August. We arrived early, and the “laird” of the estate not only invited us in for coffee, he asked if his estate manager had arranged for a shotgun. Then he said, “Why not take one of mine?” He unlocked his gun vault and asked, “Do you prefer a Purdey or a Holland & Holland?” “Yes.” “Here, take the Purdey and I’ll find you a belt of shot shells.”

Which is how I came to join a group of experienced shooters, walking in an extended line over the Scottish highlands, accompanied by incredible dogs, in pursuit of red grouse while carrying a Purdey shotgun. I’ll admit to being one of the world’s worst wing shots but with the Purdey, I couldn’t seem to miss. I doubt I’ll ever shoot a Purdey again, or even hold one, but it remains a cherished memory.

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