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Big bore blowout: total immersion therapy is the best way to learn how to handle the classic African boomers.

The buffalo was broadside at about 40 yards, an easy shot off the sticks. I hit him well, but unseen in the bush were two of his buddies. At the shot they launched, maybe charging, maybe just running in my direction. The distinction wasn't important because they were closing fast. I got off the sticks and shifted left, taking the closest bull frontally with the second barrel. The double was now empty and the third buffalo was much too close. Shifting left again to get a clean shot, I cleared the empties, got a fresh shell in the right barrel, and as I closed the action I realized I was out of time to raise the rifle. At a matter of feet, this wasn't a problem. At the last second I fired from the hip, sure of the shot, but the striker fell with a sickening "click" and I prepared to get run over.

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Fortunately, the buffalo target stopped on its track, and I had time to absorb what I'd done wrong. Unlike most doubles I've used over the years, this Krieghoff.500 was set up for a lefty like me, with the front trigger set to fire the left barrel. I knew that, but in the heat of the moment I forgot--which is exactly why such exercises should be practiced in as realistic an environment as possible. Since I wasn't lying on the ground bleeding, I could try it again and again--until I got the rapid reload down pat.

Nearly two years ago I had the opportunity to visit the Sportsmen's All-Weather, All-Terrain Marksmanship (SAAM) course on the Fallon Trophy Whitetail ranch in the Texas Hill Country. At that time it was slanted primarily toward medium- and long-range shooting. The training and instruction were great, and a few months later I played a small role in helping them expand to the SAAM Safari course, using lifelike images of both African plains game and Big Five to simulate field conditions. It's fun, invaluable for new hunters and just as useful as a warmup for old hands.

There are always new tricks to learn -and bad habits to break, and it's especially useful if you want to figure out the nuances of an unfamiliar rifle. Early last summer I attended two events at SAAM--the first hosted by Blaser, the second by Krieghoff. Both times we split the training between the long-range course, using Blaser R8 straight-pull bolt-actions and the KrieghOff Semipro (essentially a reverse slide action with a fixed breech).

Here, however; I'll focus on the second half--which consisted of closer-range shooting on the dangerous-game courses. This was my first opportunity to use the R8 in big-bore configuration. Over the years I've used the Krieghoff double quite a bit, but I haven't used it in what you might call "immersion therapy" like we did at SAAM: The results were educational.

STRAIGHT-PULL STOPPER

As we know, the R8 is a "system" rifle, with interchangeable barrels, bolt heads and magazines that can quickly become pretty much whatever you want it to be. Chamberings included.375 H&H,.458 Lott and a prototype in the mighty.500 Jeffery.

I'll be honest: I was afraid of the.500 Jeffery; it's a brutally hard-kicking cartridge. But in smaller calibers the R8 distributes recoil very well, so I was curious to see how it felt and handled in large-caliber chamberings. I took the left-handed bolt out of my R8, put it on the.458 Lott, and presto, I had a left-handed big bore.

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Now all I had to do was shoot it.

The large-caliber barrels are of fairly heavy configuration, which adds some gun weight, up to about 10 pounds depending on the sights. But the biggest advantage, in my opinion, was the stock configuration. With full-house.458 Lott loads, you bet it kicked. But even without extreme gun weight, it was easily the most manageable.458 Lott rifle I've ever fired. And since it was all set up in left-hand configuration, I pretty much stuck with it.

Ours was kind of a compressed course, the intent was to showcase the rifles. Normal SAAM training includes gun drills on stationary targets, practicing off sticks, offhand and, on command, addressing targets from various angles. Then there are the moving targets, charging buffalo and elephant, and a broadside running buffalo Typically this scenario starts with a stationary buffalo, which you shoot off sticks. Then, as so often happens in the field, once the first deliberate shot is fired the buffalo starts to run, offering wonderful training in taking--and making--backup shots. There's also a "dangerous game trail," where, under the guidance of your "PH," you fire at life-size buffalo and elephant that may appear in the brush or swing into position.

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Targets are targets and training is training. It is neither required nor recommended that all this shooting be done with full-house loads. I've often said that you should ration yourself to a careful diet of heavy-recoiling loads. Later I'll talk about some of the other options which most of the party had sense enough to employ. Me, well, honestly, that darned.458 Lott was so comfortable to shoot that, once I had it set up, I put more than 40 rounds through it with no ill effects.

Since I survived this pounding with no headaches or noticeable facial tics, I put several rounds through the.500 Jeffery as well. Make no mistake, this one kicks. I would just as soon not shoot it much off the bench. But in the R8 it wasn't just manageable--it was almost fun to shoot (well, at least a few times).

In lighter calibers the R8 is not only fast to operate, but much easier to work off the shoulder than a conventional turnbolt. This held true in big-bore trim. The.500 Jeffery was a bit slower because of the heavier recoil, but the.458 Lott was quite fast, just a matter of flicking the bolt handle while the rifle comes back, and when you bring it back down it's ready to fire. Being a bit of a traditionalist, I had looked askance at the concept of a straight-pull in dangerous-game mode, but after taking multiple running and charging buffalo/elephant shots, I realize I was wrong. It takes practice to get the hang of both the cocking mechanism and the straight-pull bolt--but once you figure it out, the action is fast and positive.

ALL DOUBLED UP

The Krieghoff Classic is a double-trigger boxlock that was probably the first more-or-less "production" double. There are options in calibers and wood, and higher grades with serious engraving, but the Classic isn't exactly a custom rifle. As such it's one of the more affordable doubles. I've shot a number of them over the years, and regulation has always been very good. And sometimes the accuracy has been astounding. In the past all Krieghoff double rifles have been extractor guns, but ejector models are now available.

One feature that all have in common is the cocking lever. It looks like a safety, but as is the case with the "tang safety" on the Blaser, it actually cocks and decocks the rifle. In the field, doubles are generally carried loaded, and all too many of us insist on the comfortable and traditional "African carry": Barrels forward over one shoulder, the flat bottom of the action resting on the shoulder. So long as the barrels point in a safe direction this is okay, but when walking in a line you have to really concentrate on keeping the barrels offset to one side or the other. Obviously one should do that anyway, but with the Krieghoff decocked (cocking lever to the rear) the rifle is completely inert.

It does take more thumb pressure to cock the Krieghoff than to push forward a traditional tang safety. This takes some getting used to, especially if you are accustomed to shotguns or other double rifles with standard tang safeties. Like most things, it's a matter of practice and familiarity.

We had available Krieghoff doubles in 9.3x74R,.450/.400 3-inch,.470 ... and one double.500 with left-hand stock and left-hand trigger arrangement. Of course I grabbed onto the left-handed.500. It was not unfamiliar; I carried the same rifle in Africa for nearly two months last year. I also shot it on my range, but sparingly. In the fall of 2010 I was still having some shoulder issues from a.600 doubling on me, so I was avoiding unnecessary recoil. In the spring of 2011 I was recovering from a cardiac problem and heavy recoil didn't seem a good idea. So I showed up at SAAM Safari embracing this left-hand.500 as an old friend. It turns out I didn't know it quite as well as I thought I did.

I knew the accuracy was superb, with both barrels printing side-by-side at 50 yards. Handling was good, and recoil, though stout, was manageable. All this I knew. Hell, I also knew perfectly well that the left trigger fired the left barrel. But when that third "buffalo" was on the charge, old habits took over and I stoked the wrong barrel ... in front of all too many witnesses. Embarrassing! So I decided I'd better use the good coaching and good training and really learn this rifle.

We did gun drills, engaging buffalo silhouettes facing, then from left, right and from behind. We did the running buffalo drill, followed by the charging buffalo and charging elephant drill. We finished on the dangerous-game trail. I stuck with the.500, and at the end my shoulder was a bit sore and my cheek was bruised. But by then the rifle had become an old friend.

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SUB-CALIBER OPTIONS

There is no substitute for extensive shooting with the rifle you actually intend to hunt with. But nothing is served by beating yourself up in the process. At the Krieghoff event we had an exceptional array of double rifles to play with, not only the.500 and.470, but also.450/.400 3-inch and 9.3x74R. There is a descending order of recoil among these. The.450/.400 is comparatively enjoyable. The 9.3 is a pussycat. As the shooting wore on, I noticed that the.450/.400 and especially the two 9.3s were being traded back and forth, and the true big bores were being shot less and less. This wasn't being wimpy, it was smart. But I got stubborn and stuck with the.500.

It's rare to have a selection of doubles to choose from. The Blaser event was much simpler in this regard. All one needs to do is change the barrel (and, depending on the cartridge, bolt head and magazine); action, trigger pull and handling qualities remain essentially the same. Nobody shot the.500 Jeffery all day, but some of us clung to the.458 Lott, others dropped down to a .375 barrel, and still others used a .308 Winchester. With gun drills and moving and charging targets, the training and rifle familiarity value are pretty much the same between an R8 in .308 Winchester and the same rifle in .375 or .458 Lott.

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To put this in perspective, my wife, Donna, attended both events with me. She's a very good deliberate shot but has had little exposure to open sights and almost none to moving targets with a rifle. Her learning curve was fantastic, but there was no value in adding uncomfortable recoil into the mix. She did the "dangerous game" shooting with a Krieghoff in 9.3x74R and a Blaser R8 in .308. She loved both rifles and dramatically improved her shooting without any pain. For the standard SAAM Safari courses, they have available Ruger M77 Hawkeye Africans with the good Hawkeye iron sights--but in.223 Remington. These rifles see a lot of use. Although we didn't always follow this rule, in the Marines we used to say, "You don't have to practice to be miserable."

It would be nice to do all your training for dangerous game with your dangerous-game rifle, but when you start to hurt, the effective training is over.

The Sight Factor

The basic credo at SAAM is to train with whatyou intend to use. I've done the dangerous-game courses with iron sights, red-dot sights and scopes. There are advantages and disadvantages to all. Old-fashioned iron sights have a low profile and allow full view of everything that's going on-which is valuable on dangerous game. Red-dot sights are generally faster to acquire and, as we grow older and our eyes less flexible, will become ever faster and eventually essential.

On dangerous game at close range, magnification isn't important. However, fast target acquisition is critical. I did most of the shooting described in this article with traditional open express sights, and I'm pleased to report that I can still do it-but resolving iron sights is getting more difficult as I get older. A low-powered scope is the most versatile alternative, but as an intermediate step for close-range shooting I am increasingly impressed by red-dot sights. At the Blaser event I did a lot of shooting with an Aimpoint on a.458 Lott and I was amazed at the accuracy and speed of acquisition. Such a sight is non-traditional on a big-bore bolt action and borders on A Blaser R8 in.458 Lott with Aimpoint sight. Red-dot sights are an excellent option for fast, close-range shooting.

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Author:Boddington, Craig
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Dec 21, 2011
Words:2250
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