The Dreaded Camp Rifle

Sometimes Feast, Sometimes Famine, Always Interesting
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Camp rifles come in all flavors. You never know what to expect but sometimes
it gets interesting. Mark traded guns with his guide momentarily.

If you travel much, it’s no big secret flying with guns and ammo is no longer fun. With almost 40 years of traveling internationally with firearms, I can testify under oath — flying abroad with guns and ammunition can be downright frustrating.

Perhaps I am just an unlucky slug. I’ve had four occasions where my guns were never recovered. There have been several instances where my gun arrived but no luggage containing ammo. Then, I have experienced luggage with the ammo come sliding out the carousel but the firearm didn’t make the trip! And of course I have arrived at the hunting destination with no luggage, no ammunition and no sign of a firearm. As a dyed-in-the-wool handgun hunter, it is of paramount importance to hunt with my handgun. I detest having to use any gun other than my own. To say I get upset when all of my luggage and handguns don’t show up would be an understatement. I’m not a conspiracy theorist but I sometimes wonder what goes on behind the scenes!

Once in a great while I hunt in a country prohibiting the use of handguns so I have no other choice but use a rifle. In some circumstances where I can’t hunt with my handgun, it takes the hassle out of traveling with the firearm and ammo to just borrow a rifle from the outfitter. After hunting on six continents, 33 countries and six Canadian provinces, I’ve had more than my share of heartburn regarding lost luggage and camp rifles.

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Mark took this Nubian ibex in Sudan with a borrowed rifle chambered in .243 Win.

Sudan

Several years ago I hunted in Sudan for Nubian ibex. Sudan does not allow handguns so to avoid the headache of traveling with a firearm, I used the outfitters’ camp rifle. It was a “working” gun in the form of a Sauer Model 202 chambered in .243 Winchester. This particular rifle shot pretty darn good but the problem came with ammunition — there wasn’t much! A few rounds of 80-grain bullets mixed with a little 100-grain ammo was it. I took a couple of shots from 100 yards and was pleased with the results. I wanted to shoot a couple more rounds from 200 and 300 yards but the outfitter declined. Apparently he wanted to preserve his short stash.

I missed two different Eritrean gazelles at long range, which caused concern. Now I was fighting a confidence battle in my mind. What if I had a crack at ibex from long range? Well, on the 11th and final day of a 10-day hunt, I was lucky to connect on a nice billy from 150 yards and the borrowed gun actually performed well. I was most fortunate to get within this range.

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This Russian guide is holding the Mossberg rifle Mark had to rent when his
own gun went missing. The mid-Caucasian tur lives in some of the most difficult
mountainous terrain and is often taken from long range. Fortunately Mark managed t
o get within 150 yards with the broken scope — for a mere $800 in rent!

To Russia Without Love

You never know when your luck will go south. I had just finished a hunt in Spain with my favorite Encore handgun in .308 Winchester then headed to Russia for mid-Caucasian tur. The gun didn’t show up and I haven’t seen it since! The outfitter told me I could rent a rifle — a Mossberg in 30-06. I asked how much? He replied, “Not very much, don’t worry.” Well, that didn’t seem too terrible under the circumstance. Unfortunately it was topped with a worthless scope and the elevation turret was broken! They gave me 10 rounds of ammo — no three rounds were the same; different manufacturer, different bullet weights! To make matters worse, the Caucus Mountains encompass steep, precipitous terrain where shots at tur are often long-range affairs. The gun shot two-feet high at 100 yards. I didn’t have enough ammo to shoot much more. Where would I hold for a 300-yard shot?

If I didn’t have enough to worry about, the antagonizing raw spot on my heel took my mind off the gun situation. The Russian guide didn’t speak any English and my Russian was non-existent. Somehow we managed to sneak up on a herd of tur on day six despite the excruciating pain inflicted by the raw spot on my heel aggravating every step I took. Climbing over a sea of huge boulders, I found myself within 100 yards of several mature males. Placing the crosshairs where I thought was the correct hold; I said a prayer and squeezed one off. It was probably just a stroke of luck but the bullet landed perfectly and I was most thankful this hunt was over!

When I returned the rifle I asked how much I owe. When I heard $800, I immediately went into coronary arrest!

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While hunting urial sheep in Pakistan, Mark had no choice but to use
the outfitter’s Blaser rifle. The .300 Win Mag worked like a charm.

Pakistan

My luck in Pakistan hasn’t been any better. When my beloved handgun — after it took several weeks to obtain a permit — didn’t show up, again I was facing the reality of borrowing a rifle. Not only the gun didn’t show up but all luggage with special clothing and boots designed to withstand the elements of freezing weather in the Himalayan Mountains got lost in transit. Himalayan ibex was on the menu and they also reside in mountainous terrain in higher elevations. Shots often occur from long range so I was a bit concerned about borrowing a gun. I didn’t know what to expect when the outfitter brought out a black case. Honestly, I was anticipating an AK-47 when much to my surprise a bolt-action in .300 Win Mag popped out. It was a difficult hunt in freezing temperatures but on the fifth day we sealed the deal thanks to a decent rifle. Ironically, when I went back to the airport to return home, my gun and luggage were there waiting for me!

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Cameroon

With great anticipation, my wife and I headed to Cameroon for a 10-day hunt in the Savannah Region. There were several unique species of game residing in this remote part of wild Africa and I couldn’t wait to hunt with an Encore handgun in .338 Federal. I sighed with relief when I saw the handgun case appear on the luggage carousel. Unfortunately, the bag with my clothes and ammo were absent! Have you ever tried to find .338 Federal ammunition in Cameroon? It wasn’t to be found. This left two choices — turn around and go home, or use a borrowed rifle.

When I arrived in camp I told the eccentric French PH my sad story. He went back to his bungalow and brought out a working-type Blaser in .375 H&H. The rifle looked as if it had been dragged behind a truck. The wood stock appeared to have the same elegance as a boat paddle. But the gun shot great and I’m sure if it could talk, it would shock you to find out what game it had taken on previous hunts.

The hunt progressed like clockwork and every species desired was in the salt. The Blaser performed flawlessly as I’m sure it had in the past. My only regret — I didn’t have my handgun along for the ride.

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Mozambique

My wife too has endured trepidation with camp rifles. A few years ago she was hunting cape buffalo in Mozambique and Karen had to use a camp rifle in .375 H&H, a Sako, if memory serves correct. It was a difficult hunt. Many stalks went south — the wind would change direction and anything else that could go wrong did. Often our days would entail tracking a herd for several hours to no avail.

On the fifth day we followed a lone track for about an hour. When we spotted the big bull, our PH got Karen on the shooting sticks. She was a little uneasy with the borrowed rifle even though she had shot it well previously in camp. At 45 yards she placed the 270-grain slug directly where it belonged and the bull was down. She was ecstatic and I couldn’t have been more proud for her. The bull was a dandy sporting 45″ horns, bigger than anything I’ve shot.

On a last-minute opportunity to hunt Punjab urial in Pakistan, I found myself once again using the proverbial camp rifle. I had braced myself and was expecting anything but what I found in camp — a Blaser Professional in 300 Win Mag fitted with a Swarovski scope. This made life easy and I proceeded to take gazelle and sheep without issue. I lucked out.

So, you never know what to expect when you are forced to borrow a gun. Savvy outfitters today are procuring good rifles for camp, a smart move as there are many hunters who want to avoid the pitfalls and worry of traveling with firearms. Since I’m emotionally attached to my handguns, I’ll continue fighting the battles with the complexity, frustration and unnecessary nonsense of traveling with a firearm. However, I never leave home without insurance covering the replacement cost of the guns. With my luck, it’s just a matter of time!

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