Speak of Africa and your favorite hunting fantasies rise like vapors from a sorcerer's kettle. The present fades to a time when ivory-bearing giants were shot as crop-raiding pests and great-maned cats were killed as vermin. And you are there!
Twilight finds you by a sweet-scented campfire, sharing a gin and tonic with your hunting pal Ruark. As usual, he frets about not having enough gun as your faithful gunbearer N'gonny performs his evening ritual of cleaning your much used Holland & Holland Royale. A good day it was. Two buffs charged you from opposite directions. Your first barrel went to the beast coming from the right, a quick half-turn and the other got the left barrel. They skidded together almost nose to nose. Well shot.
Then from somewhere in the recesses of your dreamworld a rude voice inquires, "Hey, old chap, ever try a thutty-oh-six?" and your fantasy explodes like a pricked balloon.
A .30/06? Where did that fantasy-spoiling notion come from? The .30/06 is Yankee stuff-all too plain and simple for Africa, as unromantic as a Brooklyn hot dog and totally lacking credentials for a safari gun rack. Not having been bred around the corner from Buckingham Palace, a .30/06 in Africa is a faux pas, like ordering a beer in the Ritz tearoom. "It simply isn't done, old boy."
Well, I did it. So there!
"Okay," you say. "But you carried one only as your light rifle, right?"
"Nope, just the .30/06."
The safari was in arid Namibia and my hunting pals were Rob Fancher, Jim Morey, Dave Petzal and Bob Stutler. They are all forgiving souls, and if they were shocked by my feeble armament it didn't show. Morey is head man at Swarovski Optik in the U.S., Fancher handles Swarovski's promotions, Stutler is the boss at Ruger's Arizona operation and Petzal is the spiritual adviser to a publication called Field&Stream.;
Seeing as how three of these gentlemen are much involved in the making and selling of firearms and shooting optics, one might suspect me of being a bit political if my .30/06 happened to be a Ruger rifle topped with a Swarovski scope. Just being polite is closer to the truth. Plus, the Ruger rifle I took on this safari has a distinctive African flair. It was an M77 Express model, which has a quarter-rib express sight base (which is integral to the barrel rather than soldered on) and barrel-band sling-hanger typical of bench-built British bolt guns-as is the conservatively styled stock, which the Ruger catalog says is Circassian walnut. Simply put, it's the classiest rifle made by Ruger since those early Number One's with the creased grip.
The only alteration I made was replacing the non-adjustable trigger with one made by Timney so I could set the trigger pull at my preferred 21/2 pounds. I mounted Swarovski's 3-10X scope because Namibia, especially the rolling Kalahari Desert, is a land of long shots, and the 10X power would be useful. [pagebreak] Why It Works
Once you get over the initial shock, hunting Africa with the .30/06 isn't a bad idea at all. In fact, it's a very good idea. Leave out elephant, rhinos, Cape buffalo and lions and the remaining scores of African game species seem almost to have been designed to be hunted with the ought-six. Of course we can argue all night over which bullet weight and design is best for which animal, but then why bother with theory when one good bullet will do it all?
I've long advocated 165-grain bullets as a great choice for the '06 because they offer a good combination of flat trajectory and downrange punch. So, practicing what I preach, I took along three-score handloads consisting of Nosler's 165-grain Partition Spitzer over 57 grains of Hodgdon's short-stick 4350. (I like Hodgdon's short-stick powders because they meter through the measure smoothly with less bridging than the older long-stick versions.) This yields a velocity close to 2,850 fps in the 22-inch Ruger barrel.
Sighted in to print 21/2 inches high at 100 yards, this puts impact about 11/2 inches over point of aim at 200 yards and somewhat less than 6 inches low at 300 yards. These are not very spectacular ballistics in today's arena of razzle-dazzle magnums, but they are still plenty businesslike, with nearly 1,800 foot-pounds of energy left at 300 yards-more than enough punch to make the Partition bullet do what it does best. This load is also reasonably pleasant to shoot and it reliably grouped well under two inches at 100 yards. All of which argues convincingly for a 165-grain bullet in the '06.
Of the six head of game I took in Namibia, four can be considered fairly tough customers. The two exceptions were a springbok, a pretty gazelle that weighs about 75 pounds, and a duiker I shot one evening with a .22 Magnum belonging to my guide, Dirk DeBod. The bigger animals were gemsbuck, Cape hartebeest, blesbok and zebra. All were one-shot kills except for the gemsbuck, which required two shots-a nearly disgraceful episode that I'll confess to in an upcoming article. All were shot at distances over 200 yards, except for the zebra, which I recall being about 80 yards away.
Don't fool yourself into thinking that zebras are just donkeys in pajamas. The stallion I shot ran about 40 yards before it occurred to him that he was dead. I've known them to run even farther after being well hit with heavier calibers.
The Cape hartebeest and blesbok are what using long-reaching, 165-grain bullets in the '06 is all about because they are plains-dwelling critters that seek security in big open spaces where they can spot danger from all directions. Like our North American pronghorns, their main defenses are keen eyesight and high-torque getaway speed. [pagebreak] Two Guns To Do It All
Would I use the .30/06 in Africa again? My answer is a possible "yes" but a probable "no." Yes, because it does what it does with solid Yankee reliability. No fuss and bother and no hairsplitting debate over ballistics, just results. Team a .30/06 with a .458 Win. Mag. for the dangerous stuff and you'll have all that Africa requires. But I probably won't do the .30/06 in Africa again because there are other calibers waiting to be tried. The .30/06 has been tested for nearly a hundred years and, securely enthroned as the queen of American cartridges, she seems to be getting better every year.
Travel Tip: South African Airways (800-722-9675) has always been my first choice of travel to Africa because you're treated with South African hospitality from the moment you check in your rifles. And they have expanded their service of direct flights to "Jo-Berg" from more American cities than ever. And no, they didn't give me a free trip for saying this, I just wanted you to know.