Namibia. Her name settles on a hunter’s tongue like the velvety texture of a vintage South African cabernet—intoxicating and seductive. Immortalized by scribes the ilk of Peter Capstick and Robert Ruark, she beckons to North American sportsmen who, perhaps, feel they were cheated by circumstance—born a century too late.
Wedged between the Kalahari Desert and the South Atlantic Ocean, Namibia is as intriguing and alluring as she is foreboding. Vast deserts, rugged mountains and thorn bush savannahs teeming with exotic and abundant wildlife make this southwest African country one of the last bastions for hunters who crave untamed wilds.
I was tucked in behind Professional Hunter Danie Van Vuuren, attempting to keep pace—trying miserably to match his stealth. Stopping short, my PH impatiently waved me in closer while spreading the long legs of his shooting sticks. Kudu! My mind raced as I perched the Model 70 on the infirm platform and worked to steady the crosshairs on the majestic beast casually grazing on the far side of a small waterhole. “Not that one!” Danie put a firm hand on my shoulder and squeezed. “Back in the trees, there’s a much better bull!” I strained to pick him out and, frustrated, shook my head. “Right there!” Danie pointed for emphasis, “in the crook of that leaning tree. Wait ’til he steps out and then shoot him square in the shoulder.” I didn’t see the bull until he moved out of the cover, but quickly lined up the vertical crosshair on his front leg. “He’s 180 yards,” Danie whispered, the words barely passing his lips before my rifle barked and a stout 200-grain Accubond bullet found the kudu’s massive shoulder.
Danie slapped me on the back as I cycled the Winchester’s bolt, and I realized I was still holding my breath. “Congratulations, my friend, you have a fine kudu!”
This was the third day of my hunt, and I was optimistic the kudu would change my luck. Other than the wart hog I’d shot the first morning, this was the only animal I’d put on the ground so far. I still had tags for a wildebeest, two gemsbok and an impala burning a hole in my vest pocket.
“Brutal” does little to describe the logistics of traveling to Africa. The 17-hour flight from Atlanta, Georgia, to Johannesburg alone is enough to make a grown man cry for home and Mother. All said and done, I’d spent nearly 35 hours on the road by the time I reached the Ozondjahe Safaris compound where I’d be hunting in Namibia. But it was a small price to pay for the adventures that lay in wait.
“The thing people get the most stressed about is the travel and dealing with foreign governments,” said Greg Rodriguez, Global Adventure Outfitters CEO. Rodriguez has been booking hunters into Africa for more than 10 years and was my roommate in Namibia. He provided a comfort level when preparing for the hunt and navigating the African airports. “Be sure to discuss the logistics of your hunt with your booking agent or outfitter long before your departure,” Rodriguez said. “He’ll provide details regarding the accommodations, style of hunting and terrain so you can pack appropriately. He’ll also give you detailed instructions to get you through the paperwork and airports.”
Rodriguez says his agency’s seen a marked increase in the number of sportsmen traveling to Africa to hunt. “It’s a childhood dream for many hunters,” he said. “And now, it’s probably one the best values around. For $6,000-$7,000 you can travel to South Africa or Namibia and shoot six or seven high-quality animals while being treated like a king. That’s a heck of a lot cheaper than a combination hunt in Alaska or the Yukon.
“A hunt like ours—two gemsbok, kudu, wildebeest, impala and a wart hog—will run you about $4,200 plus airfare,” Rodriguez said, “which will run anywhere from $1,900-$2,300, depending on which month you come and where you’re flying from. So, call it $6,500 plus tips.”
Equipment Proving Ground
And while more Americans are traveling to the Dark Continent to hunt, many guns, ammo and optics companies are looking to Africa as a cost-effective proving ground for new products. Kevin Howard, president of Howard Communications, who handles public relations for Winchester Ammo and Browning and Winchester firearms, says when Winchester introduced its .325 WSM (Winchester Short Magnum) it seemed only natural to take the new cartridge to Africa.
“In Africa you can hunt a variety of incredibly tough, large animals that require considerable knock-down power and well-constructed bullets,” he said. “The impalas are close to a white-tailed deer in terms of size, and from there you can go all the way up to kudu, wildebeest or elan, which are very large, tough animals. For the .325 WSM, it provided an opportunity to test the cartridge on a wide variety of animals under real-world hunting conditions.”
And these African animals are inherently tough. They have to be to contend with large predators in such a hostile environment. Like most North American hunters, I have the natural tendency to aim behind the shoulder for lethal double-lung shot placement, but the vitals on African big game animals are tucked farther forward, protected by thick skin, dense muscle and massive bones. To the man, every PH in our camp gave explicit instructions on shot placement: “Shoot ’em in the shoulder.” Most of them also recommend hefty magnum calibers and stout bullets. It’s that or make sure you have an angling shot into the vitals if you choose to hunt with smaller calibers.
While in Africa, I shot animals ranging from a whitetail-sized impala to an elk-sized kudu with the .325 WSM and 200-grain Accubond bullets. Performance was similar to what you’d expect from a .338 Win. Mag. In fact, the .325 WSM produces nearly identical velocity and energy as the .338 Win. Mag. The 200-grain Accubond in the .325 WMS leaves the barrel at 2,950 fps, with 3,866 foot-pounds of energy. Zeroed at 100 yards it drops 111/2 inches at 300 yards. The 200-grain Super-X Power-Point (Winchester Ammo doesn’t load a 200-grain Accubond in the .338 Win. Mag.) leaves the barrel at 2,960 fps and generates 3,890 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle. It drops 11.6 inches at 300 yards.
But Howard says the .325 WSM provides added benefits. “With the .325 WSM you get a better ballistic coefficient, so it retains velocity better, and you get it in a short-action rifle,” he said. “It’s actually better at delivering a 200-grain bullet than a .338 Win. Mag. So, ballistically, you’re not giving up anything by going to a shorter, smaller-diameter cartridge. And the .325 WSM cartridge uses about 11 percent less powder than the .338 Win. Mag. Because of the design of the short, fat cartridge, it ignites the powder more quickly and more uniformly, which translates to less felt recoil.”
Presently, the .325 WSM is available in three bullet choices, with weights ranging from 180-220 grains—making it a versatile cartridge effective for any North American big game species.
The heaviest, the 220-grain Super-X Power-Point, was specially designed by Winchester for the .325 WSM. It’s a jacketed soft-nose bullet with notches around the jacket mouth to improve upset and ensure uniform, rapid expansion.
The 200-grain Supreme Accubond CT was co-developed with Nosler. It has a fully bonded lead alloy core and polymer tip. Its boattail design delivers pinpoint accuracy and delayed, controlled expansion on thick-skinned, heavy-muscled big game animals.
The lightest offering from Winchester, the 180-grain Supreme Ballistic Silvertip, delivers accuracy and quick expansion. “We’ve got people excited about this load for whitetails,” Howard said, “because they’re hunting small properties and want a deer cartridge/bullet combo that’s just going to knock them down quickly. We’re seeing some people shooting bigger calibers with softer bullets on whitetails to try to eliminate having to trail them as far after the shot.”
“Stop! Stop!” Danie yelled at our driver as a heavy-horned impala buck scampered across the road and melted into the dense black thorn bushes. I’d postponed lunch to watch my PH and two helpers set up a leopard bait for one of our hunters, and we were on our way back to the compound to prepare for the afternoon hunt. “Come! Come!” Danie grabbed his shooting sticks and slid over the side of the Land Cruiser. I scampered to catch up as he disappeared into the mystery of the thick cover, angling slightly to intercept the retreating impala.
We caught several glimpses of the buck, but he eluded us in the heavy brush. I’d all but given up hope of getting a shot when Danie dropped to his knees and motioned for me to do the same. The buck was standing broadside on a cluttered game trail not 80 yards away. Danie tapped the barrel of my rifle and then patted his shoulder. “You must shoot now!” he whispered while inserting his index finger into his left ear. I rested the forend of the rifle on Danie’s shoulder and quickly found the buck in the scope, but could only see the top 8 inches of his back and his neck and head. I settled on the upper point of his shoulder, dropped the crosshairs a couple of inches into the broom grass and squeezed the trigger. I pulled the shot a bit right but caught the buck square in the base of the neck, dropping him instantly.
The impala marked the end of my first African safari. I’d taken six good animals in as many days, and as a bonus would spend the next 2 days hunting doves. As Danie and I walked up to check out my buck, I was already formulating a plan for a return visit.