What do I mean by opportunity costs? I mean that, if you choose a particular course of conduct, whether on purpose or by accident, by commission or omission, in all likelihood some courses of conduct may be denied to you. For example, should you decide to hunt with a long bow or traditional .45 revolver with iron sights, then, when the kudu bull presents itself silhouetted against the horizon on a hill top 200 metres away, you will not have the opportunity to kill it with one clean, well aimed shot, which you would have had were you armed with a custom made .300 Win. Mag., wearing a 3×9-42 Zeiss variable scope, loaded with premium cartridges bearing 175 grain Swift A-frames and a bipod attached to the reinforced front sling swivel.
On the other hand, if you fail or omit to practice assiduously with the .300 Win. Mag., described above, on sticks, from different shooting positions – lying, kneeling, sitting and standing – and know your shooting limitations, then you too may not have the opportunity to make a clean, one shot kill either, although in this case, you may wound the animal, which may or may not be found alive as it will probably have been pulled down during the night by one or more hyenas and eaten alive. Now, how does that make you feel?
So, in summary, certain deliberate decisions and other ones effectively made by omission, can either limit or increase your hunting opportunities and, if you subscribe to the mantra as I do, that preparation plus opportunity equals luck, then the greater the opportunity cost, the less “lucky” you are likely to be. Not so? As they said in the old advertisement for Nedbank, “It makes you think, doesn’t it?”
I used to hunt with a man who relied on my research into the best places, time of year and people with whom to hunt but would not stay for the duration I had booked. There was always some pressing reason which cropped up during the hunt why he had to do this and, in fairness to him, I did book longer than normal hunts because the few extra days were cheaper than having to go back if you did not find what you had been looking for. In addition, I hated that end of hunt feeling when you had not found the object of the exercise. You started hunting longer and longer hours, chasing one half lead after the other and then settling for something that did not meet your expectations. He would often complain afterwards, only half in jest, that I had shot “his” animals after he left. His early terminations probably cost him the opportunities which I sometimes seemed to enjoy after he had gone.
The topic came up amongst a group of good friends when discussing our favourite carry rifles for use when hunting those vast open areas of wildlife habitat that Africa still has to offer, even though these have shrunk dramatically in the last 50 years or so. One was a double fan and the other favoured lighter, flatter shooting rifles similar to that used by Walter Darymple Maitland Bell, who was once recorded shooting ducks or cormorants – I can’t remember which – on the wing with his .275.
We were talking about hunting in those areas where there were animals that could chew or stand on you and where, as per usual in these vast, open areas, a cross section of plains and big game – as this latter term is understood in Africa – was an ever present possibility.
My view, for what it is worth, was that, when walking through these areas, a scoped .416 Rigby calibre was the ideal rifle. Why? Well, it was capable of handling whatever you came across in the big game arena, yet still versatile enough and sufficiently flat shooting that, if plains game were encountered at distances of, say, around 200 metres, using a 400 grain bullet, the cartridge had a sufficiently flat trajectory that you did not have to aim off the animal.
In addition, using a solid, which is usually the first round I loaded followed by a soft, the .416 could be used to shoot the smallest game without blowing it up and the good Peter’s duiker I shot in the Cameroon rain forest, some 200 plus metres down a lumber company, red dirt track proved these points. As a general rule, this cannot be claimed for smaller, faster cartridges loaded with soft nosed bullets, which can and usually do blow bone splinters through the body of the little beast which, in turn, rip a sizable chunk of skin out of the offside of the animal. Not that this was the end of the world if you have a good taxidermist but, even so, something that most hunters preferred not to do.
While a .275 or 30-06 gave you the edge if you came across plains game at 300 metres or so, it was only to the extent that, with the .416, you might have to stalk closer than you would with the lighter rifles. Having said that, which rifle would you rather have in your hands if you accidentally surprised a sleepy mommy lioness with cubs at close range?
On the other hand, while the double fanatic with his .470 was A for away when it came to big game and could handle with comfort anything in this category that came his way at close quarters, with anything over 100 metres he would be better off throwing stones than trying to hit it with his iron sights. OK, this is an exaggeration but I do know that, at 200 plus metres, the front iron sight tends to obscure about a third of, say, a springbok, rendering accurate shot placement a bit of a lottery at this distance without even taking ballistics into account. On the other hand, I concede that the heavy, larger diameter .470 bullet will make a bigger wound channel and almost certainly penetrate plains game through and through leaving a double blood spoor. Should it strike plains game in or around the boiler room or vital triangle, although maybe not as precisely placed as a smaller calibre using telescopic sights, for the most part, the animal should be killed fairly speedily.
Of course, if a gun bearer accompanied you then you could have both a double and a light, flat shooter available and swop as was necessary, although the time taken to do so, in the worst case, could be fatal or the extra movement and time taken could cost you an excellent animal. I was about to say trophy but I have become gun shy of using this term knowing how the extremists and antis like to misuse it.
When I have had the luxury of a gun bearer, the second rifle I have taken along has been a .375 H&H. It can almost do what the .416 can when it comes to big game and has a longer reach than the .416 when it comes to plains game. With this combination I have never felt the need for any other rifle.
But using a gunbearer has its own opportunity cost or, maybe, more accurately, life threatening cost, as I discovered in Ethiopia when we inadvertently found ourselves in a thicket amongst a herd of Nile buffalo running hither and thither when they discovered our presence and my gun bearer thought he should join them and ran away with my rifle.
OK, in desert and mountain hunts I confess I have swopped my combination for a .375 H&H and a .300 Win. Mag., but in none of these areas in which I have hunted has there been anything bigger or more dangerous than a cat and you are definitely not under gunned when taking on one of the felines with a .375.
The late Dr Lucas Potgieter coined the phrase that only a rich hunter can afford a poor rifle scope and today’s hunter is spoilt for choice. While I would personally not fit a scope to a double rifle as, firstly, it would in all likelihood diminish its value and, secondly, in my humble opinion, it confuses the prime purpose of a double, namely, to take on big game at close quarters. On the other hand, I would not leave one off a .416 or .375. By this I do not mean to imply that I would fit a scope to every magazine rifle, although I fitted a 1 ½ to 6 power Zeiss variable to a .460 Weatherby Magnum I once had but, for the really big sticks such as a .505 Gibbs and the like, the risk of a lobotomy is just too great and because firearms like this are not that much different to a heavy calibre double and designed for big game at close quarters where iron sights are probably marginally better and quicker than a variable scope reduced to 1 ½ or 2 power.
The other point is that the heavy recoil of these major calibres sooner rather than later damages the crosshairs in the scope. This may occur and cause a few wayward shots before you understand the reason for them. I will leave the consequences of these wayward shots to your fertile imagination.
I know some PHs cringe at the very mention of a variable scope and tell many a tale of a client losing a good animal because his scope was turned to the wrong magnification and confess that, once, in the heat of the moment, when I was a lot less experienced, this also happened to me. On balance, however, my experience has been that good quality variable scopes create more opportunities than they ruin.
I will never forget an acquaintance trying to make out a buffalo bull in deep shade on a little island in the Okavango Swamps with his iron sighted double. He could not see what I could clearly through my scoped Brno .458 and even more clearly through my 10 x 25 Leica pocket binoculars. In the end, in desperation, he shot at the point of a down drooping twig, which conveniently indicated the exact middle of the buffalo’s vital triangle. But for my scope initially and then my binos, he may have gone home without a buffalo.
As it was, what happened next was totally unexpected. The shot buffalo reversed course, ran out the back of the little island and expired a few metres further on. No-one, however, had seen its companion which rushed forward off the island in fright and to escape, passing the hunter a few metres to his right. He was gobsmacked and unable to do anything as I was in the way.
A friend watching proceedings further back assumed, incorrectly, that this was a wounded buffalo and opened up with a borrowed, light calibre rifle loaded with softs. Being an excellent shot, he hit the buff three times on the run in and about the boiler room. The third shot caused the bull to stop and check out his tormentor. Before it could change course and head for him, the fourth and final shot broke the bull’s right shoulder joint and rolled it over, which allowed the earlier shots to take effect. A piece of good luck as the shooter was out of ammo.
The discussion then moved on to other types of opportunity costs. For example, in the iron stone rock strewn environment of the Karoo, failing to bring knee pads and gloves, can and often does, cost the hunter the animal he is after. Although grabbing a flat stone in either hand can help somewhat in the absence of gloves, this is no solace for your knees. Palms and knees can only take so much punishment from the sharp edges of unforgiving rocks, stones and pebbles before the hunter is forced from a grass and shrub hiding, unthreatening crawl to walking bent over from the waist, which fools no-one. One of two things happens then. Either the animal runs out of normal range and, when it eventually stands on high alert, leaves the hunter with a quick and risky shot, especially if he does not know the exact ballistics of the cartridge he is using, or else the animal emigrates completely.
Even if the animal is subsequently killed, the meat by then is probably suffused with adrenalin and will be dry and bitter to the taste.
Hunting in the rain forest without a pair of secateurs and leather gloves also comes at an opportunity cost. The terrain is extremely inhospitable at best. While the Pygmy trackers do their best, they usually only cut the claustrophobic, all embracing vegetation to the height of their heads. If you are taller, you need to be able to look after yourself. Not to mention the lower tendrils and creepers of uncut vegetation which wrap around rifle barrels, scopes, the hooks for boot laces and anywhere else they can entangle themselves.
Without this tool and good thin leather gloves to allow you to grasp the ever present, thorn covered vegetation, you will be nothing but a semi mobile noise machine dependent on the Pygmies to cut you loose or, worse still, be reduced to trying to tug yourself free with all the movement and noise that that involves.
It was freezing cold in the high Karoo mountains. I was wearing two down jackets, a waistcoat under a full, long sleeved one. I watched as the quality vaal rhebok ram rounded the peak of the mountain in front of me some 400 metres away. It looked nervous, stopping every now and then to look and smell with its large, bulbous nose. But on it came.
I was rock steady or so I thought behind the bipod attached to my Brno .243. When the ram stopped broadside on at what I judged to be 300 metres – distance measuring binos were still a thing of the future – I gently squeezed the 2 ½ pound Timney trigger thinking to myself, “Dead buck!”
Looking up from the slight recoil of the light calibre I was amazed to see the rhebok dead, dead still that is, looking around trying to work out where the shot had come from as its sound reverberated around the hollow in which we found ourselves. Three shots later, with exactly the same result, I was a hot, sweaty mess. Worse still, I was out of ammo and had to borrow the rifle of my guide, a poor fitting .270 – he was much smaller and shorter than me – with which I knocked the ram over.
It was only the next day on the shooting range that I worked out what had happened. I had never shot my .243 wearing the clothes I had on that fateful afternoon. The two layers of goose down compressed with the recoil, which lifted the barrel ever so slightly which, in turn, was enough to lift the light bullet over the back of the ram.
By not practising with my hunting clothes, I had inadvertently deprived myself of the opportunity to make a clean, one shot kill. You see, although I knocked the little buck over, it was not dead and I had the deeply unpleasant task of walking up to and putting the small, paralysed animal out of its misery.
As I wrote earlier, preparation plus opportunity equals luck. So, the rain forest hunter who is prepared, uses waterproof scopes, swops his leather belts and slings for webbing ones, wraps tapes around his boot laces or, better still, uses boots without hooks for laces, brings clear glasses to protect his eyes from whiplashing branches and creepers, wears dark, olive green khaki clothing and a dark buff to pull up and mask his lower face, will all help reduce the opportunity cost of not doing so and maybe, just maybe, he will be the “lucky” hunter.