Well, this spring's Safari Rifle match is in the bag, and a great time was had by all. This is my third time shooting the match, and while some of the novelty has worn off, I've been able to use it to fine-tune some of my gear choices and techniques, while having a very enjoyable time at every turn. The gentleman who runs the match, Bill Poole, is a friendly and cheerful guy who puts a ton of time and effort into running the event. The folks who participate are also a great bunch of guys, always willing to share knowledge and tips with new arrivals like myself. I've been in competitions both friendly and unfriendly over the years, and it's a breath of fresh air to shoot with a group like this. This year we fought the wind to keep our targets upright, but we managed to persevere with a little adaptation and ingenuity.
Let's start with my equipment setup, since testing that is my primary reason for competing. I ran my Ruger Hawkeye African in 9.3x62mm, topped with an SWFA SS 1-6x in Warne QD rings, shooting my reloads. Because the 9.3 was considered undersized for the final elephant stage, I brought along my old large-frame Ruger Vaquero revolver in .44 Magnum. It seemed silly that a .44 Magnum handgun would be acceptable where a 9.3x62mm rifle was not, but the rules only considered bullet diameter and I wanted to compete in every stage. So the 5.5" stainless Vaquero rode on my right hip, with the Wilderness TwinLoader in front and the Westley Richards 5-round ammo pouch behind.
From my experience in the match, I have determined two things: First, I need a better holster for the Vaquero. This Hunter holster is rudimentary at best, and though it did suffice for the day, I would want something of far better design, fit and quality if I ever take this piece on a hunting trip. Second, while my shirt is one of the most comfortable that I own, being a lightweight, long-sleeve soft cotton chamois, the shirt tails are too short and it frequently came untucked under exertion, fouling up on my cartridges. The WR pouch was a little less affected, as the leather flap helped keep most of the shirt out of the way, but the TwinLoader would frequently be covered by the shirt. I need to see if Cabela's has the same shirt in a Long/Tall size, as I am otherwise very fond of the material and pocket placement/design. I avoid shirts with unflapped pockets when shooting rifles, as I find the toe of the stock will often get hung up there during the dismount. If the pockets have a button flap, the stock will just slide off and all is well.
On my left side, I had my SureFire G2 flashlight and my Leatherman tool, along with an interesting little knife called a Clinch Pick. The Clinch Pick looks like a small caping knife, but the edge is on the back of the blade rather than the belly. It's designed as a defensive weapon for use in a grapple (hence the name), and I've been experimenting with where and how to carry it. Suffice to say, it's not really germane to this forum, so we'll leave it at that.
The only real issue I had with my left-side setup was that the upgraded metal bezel on my SureFire kept banging on my rifle when I had it slung. I have an old nylon flap sheath for it that I will use in the future to protect my rifle from such abuse. My Wilderness Frequent Flyer belt, Smartwool Trekking Heavy Crew socks and Cabelas Trail Hiker II pants performed well as always. I've got no reason to change them at this point.
One interesting bit of equipment issue to note: headgear. Being a pale-skinned redhead, the sun is my natural enemy. I go from zero to lobster in about 15 minutes in the AZ summer, so I take care to dress accordingly. Thus the long pants and long sleeve shirt even in the desert heat; I can keep myself reasonably cool via hydration and sweating through the loose cotton. But this being the safari match, previous winners are encouraged to wear their prize pith helmets. In the spirit of the match, I started out with my helmet, but it meant I had to wear earplugs instead of my electronic muffs. That makes it harder to hear, and started to irritate my ears in fairly short order. During the first stage, my scope recoiled into the brim of my helmet, knocking it clean off my head. I let it lie in the dust and drove on to finish the string, and after that I switched back to my muffs and my soft boonie hat. The final bit of clothing I used was a thin cotton neckscarf that my good friend bought as a souvenir from his trip to Vietnam and gave to me. It's similar to a shemagh, but thinner and rectangular as opposed to square. Wrapped around my neck, it kept me from getting sunburned and still maintained excellent breathability. I've long found a large bandana to be a great utility item in the field, and this is just an extension of the concept. This one's definitely going to Africa with me.
Now, I mentioned my shooting sticks in the last post. I got to really put them through their paces for the first time yesterday, and I'm very pleased. I also developed an ad-hoc support technique that controls the sticks, insulates the gun from the hard body of the sticks themselves, and allows me to use the push-pull recoil mitigation technique to better control the gun. It just kind of naturally developed as I was testing the sticks out while I was developing my handloads, and I gave it the acid test at the match. I'm happy to say that it works great, and I'll be using the technique from here on out (unless, of course, I find something that works better!). The proof is in the pudding: I shot dramatically better off the sticks this time around compared to my last two matches. My only miss was when I got up close to the targets and dumped the sticks thinking I didn't need them. Sure enough, El Snatcho snuck up and I launched my shot six inches low, missing entirely. Every single other shot was directly in the heart. Here I'm demonstrating the technique to another competitor (behind the firing line, so I had to do it without my rifle)
I found my choice of caliber had a lot of advantages in this match, save for the limitation on the elephants at the end. I was able to load up 5 rounds at a time, and never had to reload on the clock, unlike the folks with single shots, doubles or larger-caliber bolt guns. I was also able to quickly work the bolt on the charging buffalo. Nobody managed to get both shots into the brain box on that particular target, but my error was simply rushing the shot. If I'd had better trigger control, I had the time to make the second hit. On a non-scored practice run afterwards, I was able to put both rounds into the buff, draw the Vaquero, and still make a headshot with the handgun. All that time practicing transitions with my carbine and Beretta paid off!
Here's a shot of the match director, Bill Poole, engaging the buff as it charges. This is probably my favorite part of the match. That buff moves deceptively fast, and the rocky terrain makes the small brain shot zone bounce all over the place. Of course, it's nowhere near having a real live buffalo charge you with murder in his eyes, but it's a lot more challenging than simply busting a stationary target. I have some video that my good friend Michael Novack shot, but I have to take care of some logistical issues to get it hosted and available. Rest assured, it's coming :)
In the end, my preparations paid off, and I either validated my choices or learned where I needed to improve. I've got a good handle on where I need to go from here. And the proof, as I said, is in the pudding. I was able to keep things together and win the match. I received the winner's pith helmet! And of course, I had to wear my previous helmet for the award photo :) It's just how it's done, old chap, what?