“We've had reports of a couple of crop-raiding elephants in the vicinity. We think they're close and if we don't act now, they could destroy some junipers. And we here in Central Oregon love our junipers.”
They stood in a semi-circle as I described the upcoming “safari” to two dozen enthusiasts of the double rifle and the big bore bolt rifle, firearms that the uninitiated refer to as “elephant guns.” We encouraged our shooters to wear safari gear, a shade-giving hat and a canteen. Each would be accompanied by a professional hunter or PH.
Some of the assembled had been to Africa, some were anticipating their first safari and for a few hours in the High Desert they would put their favorite rifles through their paces.
Our first course was a walk through junipers where two life-sized plywood elephants lurked. The first was a static target encountered between trees. The second swung out from behind a large bushy juniper to present a side profile of neck, head, trunk and ivory.
It looks like shooting the side of a barn until you realize the target is an eggplant-sized “brain” in front of the ear.
Next, the shooter encountered a chunk of plywood carved in the shape of a cape buffalo head. When the buffalo charged, the shooter was supposed to put two bullets in the black between the horns.
For the leopard blind, we constructed a hide out of native juniper branches. Once inside the blind, the shooter could see the leopard in the tree and a jackal nearby.
Ambling from the leopard blind to a hunt for springbok, we instructed the hunter on the scarcity of animals. “We used to have a herd of springbok here, but the poachers have hit them really hard. We think there might just be one left. There he is. And look, there's the poacher!”
We held our first big bore double rifle “safari” in Central Oregon in 2008 and our second in 2010. Our course designer then was Bill Fockler, a past president of the Central Oregon Shooting Sports Association. When he passed away in 2012, we had to cancel the event.
This year, Matthew McFarland, a double rifle enthusiast, stepped in to help. McFarland, who is the general manager at Hoodoo Ski Area, has a lot of experience in making things run on tracks and cables. This year we used target systems of his design as well as a few of Fockler's and some of the new and excellent photo-realistic images from Harrisburg-based Spot Hogg.
New for this year, we had a running cheetah, powered by a portable generator, a 12-foot closed-cell foam crocodile that we had to shoot from a boat with a real harpoon gun, and a full-size 3-D bison dressed up as a rhino.
No safari would be complete without a little bit of danger. No one expected to see a snake, but when they stepped up to dart our “rhino,” a yellow polymer reptile leapt out of the grass like a 10-foot black mamba.
The big bore shoot was presented by COSSA in conjunction with the High Desert Safari Club and was sponsored by Nosler, Carter Cutlery, Walmart of Redmond, Bend Mapping and Gary Lewis Outdoors.
This year, I shot a scoped Swedish Husqvarna 9.3x62 I borrowed from Chub Eastman. I was out of the 10 rings on the cheetah and that put me out of the running in the most competitive division. Lee Van Tassell won that one with a scoped 375 H&H and a score of 165 out of a possible 180.
Shooting a 458 Win Mag with iron sights, Vance Allen was tops in his division. Joan Hardy, of Azalea, shot well enough with her 500-416 double rifle to take first place in her category. Dan Rohrer, of Powell Butte, shot his way to first place with an 11.6x71 drilling that he picked up at a pawn shop.
Taking first place in the above-500 category, Dennis Jones carried an 1882-vintage Cogswell and Harrison 577. In 1887, a surgeon named E.H. Fenn took delivery of the rifle from the company's New Bond Street shop in London. Dr. Fenn would be pleased to know his rifle is still in action 126 years later.
Was it realistic? Our charging lion was fast, but a real lion is faster. At 30 yards on a flat-out sprint, the cheetah might have been hardest to hit. Our pachyderm and antelope targets were paper and plywood, but the pressure to perform in front of peers and a pretend PH was enough to make participants perspire.
With the exception of the leopard blind, we required all shots be made offhand. This was my fifth safari shoot and never have I seen better shooting with the big guns.