Stalking essentials, as chosen by our contributors (part 4)

This is our fourth and final part in the stalking essentials series, as chosen by Sporting Rifle’s contributors.

Last time, we heard from Byron Pace regarding essential mountain hunting gear, and in our final bumper part, we have picks from Pete Carr, Mark Ripley AND Mike Powell

Foxing gear, by Mike Powell

Things change rapidly in the world of night-time foxing, with new and – in some cases – very sophisticated equipment appearing on what feels liike a weekly basis. Not all of it is necessarily an improvement over some of the kit I’ve used for years. However, this year has, in fact, seen me make several changes to my usual set-up.

First and foremost has been the arrival of a new rifle. I still have my tried-and-trusted Sauer .202 in .223 calibre with the venerable Starlight Longbow on top, still to my mind the best tubed night vision out there.

Mike uses dark block colours to mask his outline

My new rifle is a Mike Norris custom .204 Ruger calibre built on an H-S Precision action, perhaps the most accurate and effective fox round I’ve ever used.

This has a Swarovski Z6i 2.5-15×56 scope with a Pulsar F455 front-mounted digital NV. Additional IR when required is provided by a Wicked Lights IR torch. This allows clear recognition and target acquisition out to 300 yards, which is more than good enough for me.

I have a Quicksilver titanium mod, which has served me well for many years now. This set-up, though still new to me, has already accounted for a lot of foxes.

For spotting I use a Pulsar XD38S thermal. Again I’ve had this for several years and it really works. I power it with a Pulsar battery pack, which gives more hours than I’m likely to use in a session.

I always have a torch available should the NV ever give any problems (it’s never happened yet, but better safe than sorry). I have two go-to torches: a Night Master Trident and a Wicked Light Predator. Both of these have a choice of three LEDs and are top-quality units.

As I’ve written before, if I’m not shooting from the Hilux I always shoot off sticks, and without a doubt the best I’ve come across are another Wicked Lights product.

Their infinitely adjustable carbon-fibre tripod set-up has a hog saddle mount that you can clamp the rifle on to. It works brilliantly, and I wouldn’t want to be without it.

These are my main nightly go-to items, but there are a few other essentials. For ammunition for the .204 I use home loads: 27 grains of IMR4064, Federal 205 small rifle primers behind Sierra 39-grain Blitzkings in either Norma or Hornady brass. These work well for me.

Just some of Mike’s most used items

I have a collection of calls, both digital and mouth blown, but more often than not I use the ‘Mark One hand’.

I always have a Cluson head torch in the truck together with one of their extremely reliable pistol torches.

As far as clothing is concerned, I avoid camo patterns at night as most show up in moonlight. I much prefer the block dark green/brown colours. I have a collection built up over the years from Percussion, Harkila and Deerhunter. All do the job. Face veil and gloves, too, are must haves.

Finally, as I get older an extremely useful item of equipment is my young shooting partner Callum, who does a lot of learning and most of the dirty work.

Big game gear, by Pete Carr

I have been fortunate to take part in a significant number of hunting safaris, and most of these involved hunting one or more members of the Big 5 – with buffalo being the predominant species.

Hunting dangerous game is by default dangerous, and if you pull the shot it will be extremely dangerous, especially for the PH who will most likely have to put the mess right. Accordingly, the first essential item for big game hunting should be no surprise.

• First aid kit.
Sticking plasters and germoline ain’t going to be much good to someone who’s just been chewed on by a leopard, lost an arm to a lion, or had his bones busted, and possibly a tennis ball-sized hole drilled through his body by an upset elephant, rhino or buffalo. That being so, one has to take a few military field dressings (these take up to a litre of blood), a commercially made tourniquet, and a bottle of iodine (to sanitise bite/claw wounds). Take as strong painkillers as you can get – try your GP for a few. He may or may not help. I’ve got some strong ones left over from when I tore my knee – they are out of date now but I’d rather have them than 100mg of paracetamol if I’ve just survived being smashed by a buffalo. The normal first aid kit additions can be taken to deal with thorns, cuts and the like. If you are going to be in a malaria area, medicate against it and use deterrents.

• Good comms
Take a sat phone. You will most likely be hunting in a remote area and comms could be the difference between life and death.

• Insurance.
Only a fool would head out in to the bush without adequate insurance. CASEVAC to home nation is the minimum; many African hospitals wouldn’t pass medieval standards, though there are some good ones in major cities such as Jo’burg and Kampala (I can vouch for the Kampala International Hospital). Don’t skimp on the death cover too. Remember, if you get rubbed out by an elephant, your wife and kids have to survive – at least until the other half finds a replacement.

Depending on destination country, you should also consider kidnap and ransom cover. Mozambique is now the biggest K&R risk country in Africa, but DRC, CAR, and most of the West African states have armed militia groups who specialise in ruining safaris and providing the unfortunates with alternative accommodation that ain’t five-star. If you have cover, they will keep you alive. If not, you will spend an unpleasant few days at the hands of a warlord before being murdered and then either left for the hyenas or put in the cooking pot – apparently the palms of human hands are the tastiest part. Buy the insurance.

• Footwear.
Buy the best. Courteney Boots have stood the test of time. I live in mine, and that’s the key: buy them well in advance of your safari and break them in.

• Clothing.
Bamboo is great. It stops you stinking. There are a number of excellent bamboo safari shirts on the market. The same goes for merino wool socks – they stop your feet stinking and wick moisture away. A good comfortable cap or hat is key to avoiding sunstroke and sunburn. One with a wide brim will keep your neck safe too. Shorts will stop you cooking; I like trousers with the zip off legs that give you the option of shorts during the day and the ability to cover your legs at night and keep the mozzies away. 

• Use enough gun and adequate ammunition.
Make sure you have an adequate firearm – .375 H&H minimum – but more importantly make sure you can use the damn thing. Practice makes perfect.

• A sense of humour.
This is essential to every safari. You will be tested mentally and physically. Your PH will wear many hats – hunter, logistics wizard, nurse, confidant and marriage guidance counsellor – don’t piss him off. Africa is no place for sissies.

Long-range shooting gear, by Mark Ripley

When it comes to long-range shooting, the equipment you use really can make all the difference. It’s the usual case of you get what you pay for.

If your looking to consistently place shot on shot at any given range, you need to be able to draw maximum consistency and accuracy from your set-up. Then it’s just down to you to do your bit.

Most factory rifles these days are exceptionally accurate. Many even give 1MOA or better accuracy guarantees. For the best accuracy and a rifle tailored to the type of shooting you do, a custom-built rifle is without doubt a worthwhile investment, and probably not as expensive as you might think. I’ve a custom Remington 700 build in .260 Rem and a customised Tikka T3 in .223 for my night shooting.

Good quality ammunition that your rifle will shoot well with is just as important as the rifle itself. The best rifle in the world will only shoot as well as the ammo will allow.

Again, here the best performance you’re likely to get will come from ammunition tailored to suit your rifle and barrel twist, so quality ammunition or handloading is the way to go. I personally use Hornady 143-grain ELD-X bullets in my .260 Rem and 53-grain factory-loaded Superformance in my .223.

Now to the optics. Many people often buy a quality rifle only to let it down with a cheap scope. To repeatably be able to dial in a given elevation accurately is essential, and it’s surprising how far off some cheap scopes can be.

I remember testing one with dialable turrets several years ago, and found that it did indeed dial an inch at 100 yards when set to 1MOA on the elevation – yet when repeated on the windage it actually moved it almost three inches!

I’ve always found Nightforce scopes to be incredibly tough and reliable and well worth the initial outlay.

Along with a good scope you will also want a decent pair of binoculars to spot your target, and an accurate rangefinder. I opted to go for an all-in-one pair of Leica Geovid rangefinding binos.

For a number of years now I’ve been using a Kestrel NV4500 wind meter with ballistic software built in. It has proved an excellent tool for quickly giving accurate shot solutions, and I’ve more recently been considering upgrading to the Elite model, which gives a few extra features. A cheaper option is to use a ballistic app such as Strelok.

A couple of final accessories to round off your set-up. A rear bag to rest under the butt of the rifle is a great way to accurately shoot prone once you have adjusted to the technique in using it. 

Last of all, a great tip I picked up from YouTube for establishing wind direction is the use of a plastic drinking straw and kebab stick! It costs nothing and does actually work.

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