DAVID COLE – Scout Rifle Safari Postscript
When Richard Mann announced the first Scout Rifle Safari last year, I thought it was a great idea. I had been saving up to hunt Africa with my scout rifle, and I was sure it would be fantastic fun to do it in the company of Richard and other scout rifle aficionados. If only the announcement had come a couple of weeks earlier! My friend and I had just put down deposits to hunt with KMG Safaris in the East Cape province of South Africa…and as the saying goes, once you have fired the shot, you can’t get it back. The same goes of safari deposits.
So shortly after the Scout Rifle Safari concluded, I was headed to Mpunzi Lodge for my first African plains game hunt. My primary rifle for the week was to be my Ruger Gunsite Scout Rifle in .308 Winchester, fed with Hornady Precision Hunter ammunition featuring the 178-grain ELD-X bullet. The rifle is stock, topped with the Burris 2-7x scout scope in Warne QD rings. I brought both 3-round and 5-round examples of the Ruger branded polymer magazines, normally loading the 3-rounder in the gun and sticking the 5-rounder in a pocket as a backup. The rifle is also equipped with the Rhodesian sling from Andy’s Leather.
I did take a second rifle, a Ruger M77 African chambered in .375 Ruger. While I didn’t necessarily need the bigger gun, it isn’t always about need. Though there was nothing on my trophy list that the .308 Winchester couldn’t handle, I was planning to hunt zebra and wanted to try the .375 Ruger out. So I brought it along, also with an Andy’s Leather Rhodesian sling and a couple of boxes of Hornady Superformance 250-grain GMX loads. Rounding out the package was the Leupold VX-R 2-7x scope with Illumidot duplex reticle.
Martin, our PH, picked us up at the Port Elizabeth airport, and we headed to the lodge. Upon arrival, we headed to the range to check the rifles. I was happy to find both of my guns shooting right where they were supposed to, exactly as I had zeroed them at home. All good, right? Hold that thought…
As I spent the week chasing plains game, I was plagued by what appeared to be some shoddy marksmanship, missing my first two shots at springbok, making a poor shot on bushbuck, and getting plain lucky on impala. At least I thought it was me. The scout rifle had checked out just fine on arrival, and after my misses on springbok the first day, we had gone back to the range and checked again. All good.
What I should have noticed was that all my troubles were associated with the scout rifle. When I took my zebra with a 200 yard shot using the M77 African, I made the shot easily and placed it almost perfectly. Shooting well with one rifle and not with another? That should have been a clue. Though I did eventually manage to fill all my tags, it turns out that there was indeed an undetected issue with my scout.
As I was packing up the night before our departure and casing my scout for travel, I felt the scope move very slightly under my hand. It was so slight, I wasn’t even sure, so I handed it to my hunting partner and asked him to see if he could feel it. He could. As it turns out, the scope was solid in the rings, but what was moving was the factory installed Picatinny rail on the rifle. It wasn’t exceedingly loose, but enough that with some pressure, it could be moved a tiny bit. I think what was happening was that it was stable enough to remain in correct position when shooting from the bench, so we didn’t detect any issues when on the range. But in the field, under handling, in and out of the vehicle, and so on…it could possibly have moved and caused shots to go astray. I have not yet had a chance to tighten the base back down and check the rifle on the range, but I suspect that will fix the problem. I can guarantee you that next time, I will have tools which fit my mounts and physically check them for tightness upon arrival, whether the rifle is suspect or not. It will hurt nothing to ensure that all is snug before heading into the field, even if the rifle seems to perform properly on the range prior to the hunt.
But thanks to good luck, it still turned out to be a successful hunt, and there were certain attributes of the scout rifle which were invaluable. The short overall length of the gun made getting in and out of Martin’s Landcruiser much quicker and easier, and the difference was clear when I carried my 23” barreled M77 African. Also, Martin’s policy while riding with guns inside the vehicle was to keep muzzles down to the floorboard, rather than up towards the ceiling. While the stock flash hider of the Gunsite Scout Rifle is often disparaged by internet critics, I was glad to have it protecting the muzzle crown of my rifle while bouncing against the floorboard of a hunting vehicle. Once I have resolved my scope mount issue, I would have no problem hunting Africa with the scout rifle again. In fact, that is precisely what I plan to do.
The African experience defies easy explanation to anyone who has not been there. The best comparison I can conjure is that it is like an unrequited love, a crush on the high school prom queen. You can ask her for a dance, and she will consent; you may even be able to steal a kiss. But that will be all. The music will stop, and she will walk away and go on as if you had never existed. You will always want one more dance, but whether it happens or not, you will always have the memory. And it is good.