SA JAGTER/HUNTER | March - April 2022 | By DANIE GROBLER
“HERE WE TALK .404!”
The .404 Jeffery will capture the imagination of anyone interested in big bores, especially those fortunate enough to acquire a rifle in such a classic calibre. Be it an original Westley Richards, a Mauser sporter, a rare WJ Jeffery rifle or a custombuilt rifle created by a local gunsmith, it will cast its spell on you.
A GROUP FOR ENTHUSIASTS
This mutual fascination brought together a small group of accomplished men with diverse backgrounds and professions from across our country on a WhatsApp group called “Hier praat ons .404!” (“Here we talk .404!”). When founded in 2014, this group consisted of only a few members. Despite this, there was no lack of enthusiasm!
I joined the group early in 2015 during my buffalo hunt with Kallie Coetzee, one of the initial members. His invitation to join the group came with a stern warning about the group’s high activity level. He wasn’t wrong!
Nevertheless, I enjoyed the excitement of being part of such an exclusive group of men with their wealth of knowledge and experience. Deon Brits, one of the .404 Jeffery’s most enthusiastic advocates, manages the group’s administration. The rest of his time is spent hunting or practising for the next big-bore competition. Oom Koos, our oldest member, brings unparalleled experience to the group with regard to gun-related, technical aspects. Then there is Darren, who proudly displays a .404 group logo sticker on the bumper of his Maserati!
THE FIRST GROUP HUNT
Over the past few years, the .404 group repeatedly tried to arrange a group hunt, preferably in mopane bushveld. However, real-life commitments prevented most members from going. Finally, Kallie managed to arrange such a hunt on a pristine Bushveld farm north of Tshipise in Limpopo Province in 2016.
Only a fortunate few were able to make it. Pieter managed to take a magnificent old eland bull right amongst the mopanes. Kallie not only bagged a splendid kudu bull but displayed considerable culinary skills to boot. The moment he appeared with his headlamp, everyone knew he should not be bothered until serving a mouth-watering fivecourse feast.
One weekend in early March 2021, we managed to bring together a core team of members on a Bushveld farm east of Mokopane (previously Potgietersrus). Covid-19 lockdown frustration probably contributed significantly towards the success of this event, with eight of the 13 group members attending. The .404 group activity increased dramatically in the weeks before the hunt as the excitement grew.
When the first members arrived Wednesday afternoon, they immediately visited the shooting range. Among them was LD, who flew in from Mossel Bay. These city dwellers couldn’t wait any longer to shoot their beloved .404s. Acceptable group sizes from all participants led to an enjoyable first evening around a splendid Bushveld campfire.
Early the next morning and later that afternoon, the rest of the gang joined the party, including Francois and Leon. It was the first time in over seven years that most members actually met one another. However, after many years of communicating on the WhatsApp group, we felt like old friends – we knew everything about one another’s families and, even more important, about their rifle collections and hunting exploits.
Hunting was not the main focus this weekend, although some members managed to take some good representative specimens. The first morning, we searched for bushbuck and kudu bulls in dense riverine vegetation. We followed the fresh tracks of three kudu bulls but didn’t get a visual. Two Rowland Ward trophies came down the mountain on day three. This included a beautiful klipspringer and a mountain reedbuck. Needless to say, they didn’t fall to the venerable .404 cartridge. However, Pieter and LD bagged some nice blue wildebeest bulls with their .404s.
NOT WIDELY KNOWN
I have found that many people are generally unaware of the .404 Jeffery cartridge. Most also think it is a .404” calibre. Therefore, to own such a rifle means you have been exposed to the world of big bores to some extent. Hence, the .404 group consists of members with above average gun knowledge and hunting credentials. This is obvious from their gun collections and trophies. Most have hunted some members of the Big Five. Unfortunately, this is not always possible for us South Africans as we cannot compete with the exorbitant US dollar or euro prices paid by overseas clients. We often have to rely on good tomato harvests or annual bonuses, as well as the more affordable, late-season hunting opportunities offered to local hunters.
Nevertheless, nothing can compete with a big eland bull hunt in the mopaneveld north of the Soutpansberg. It becomes even more memorable when you have a .404 Jeffery in your hands and manage to get a shot through dense vegetation at close quarters. It always reminds me of what the old hunters like Fred Everett, Ian Nyschens, Wally Johnson and Harry Selby must have experienced during colonial times while hunting big elephant bulls or tuskless cows in “the thick stuff”. Can we even begin to imagine that?
BENEFITS OF THE .404 GROUP
One of the things I most enjoy about being a member of this fraternity is welcoming a new member during the time his rifle is being custom-built. The advice offered by all on the group and the accompanying excitement when the first pictures of the final work of art are posted on WhatsApp inadvertently take you back to the time your own rifle was built! However, you are only allowed as a full member of the group the day you receive your gun licence, however long that may take.
Another bonus of belonging to this group is that you can follow the hunting excursions of other members. As a “Whats App spectator”, you become just as involved in the pursuit as the hunter himself! In this way, we are all gaining much-needed “virtual” hunting experience on elephant, buffalo, hippo, crocodile and some of the more exotic antelope. We all share in each hunter’s successes and unavoidable, sometimes costly failures. The young fellows like Deon keep us fairly busy in the buffalo department! As Ruark noted, “You may kill him easily with one bullet, but if you don’t, the next fourteen .470s serve mostly as a minor irritant.” At least Deon’s .404 needed only seven bullets on one buffalo. Maybe “use enough gun” should have rather been “use a .404 Jeffery”.
Many other famous calibres have tried to lure us away from the .404 group. These include the famous 9,3x62 Mauser, the .416 and .450 Rigby, and even the beautiful .450 NE and .470 NE doubles. However, we all remain faithful to our .404 group, and that will never change. By the way, a recent virology study published in a prominent medical journal showed that the .404 Jeffery is also very effective against the coronavirus – well, at least in the Zambezi Valley laborator trials – especially so with a dose of 400-grain Barnes TSX bullets! I would like to end with a final quote from Ruark: “The reason my friend Mbogo is generally rated as the toughest piece of all the African furniture is that he is a single-minded type.” We can probably say the same about the entire .404 group!