SA JAGTER/HUNTER | Junie 2020 | By NICO HARRIS
THE UNLIKELY, LIKELY SOLUTION
Being a farmer by profession I need to cull game and control the numbers of pest or problem animals on a regular basis. My bakkie (truck) is basically my office and one of the tools of my trade is the so-called “bakkie rifle”. And believe me, it is not easy to find the ultimate bakkie rifle that will tick all the boxes.
A bakkie rifle must have certain features, qualities and abilities. My requirements are the following: It must be cheap to shoot because I use it on a daily basis; it needs to be durable and not fancy because it will work hard and receive no pampering; low maintenance and reliability is important; it must be compact and easy operable from the confined space of a bakkie’s cab; and last but not least it must be deadly accurate.
Some of my requirements may sound a bit contradictory – well-maintained guns are normally reliable and compact rifles are usually used for short-range work. However, the ultimate bakkie rifle needs to be something special, something extraordinary because the chores it must perform are varied.
It will be used on all sorts of problem animals, from crows right up to the size of big male baboons. Shooting distances will range from 25yds all the way out beyond 300yds. I must be able to get it into action while still in the bakkie’s cab and then shoot over the side mirror. The rifle will also be used regularly in low light conditions and even at night.
FINDING THE RIGHT COMBINATION
The hard part is to select the most appropriate rifle/calibre/scope combination from the myriad options available. Calibre choice is not so difficult – it has to be a light/small calibre as the bigger ones are too expensive to shoot and rifles chambered for them are normally not compact enough for my liking.
I have tried a number of smallbore calibres, but none was exactly what I was looking for. I started off with a .22 Hornet, a Brno ZKW 465. It is a nice little rifle and very compact, but it was not accurate enough and the .22 Hornet cartridge runs out of steam around the 200yds mark. Next, I tried a Howa Model 1500 in .243 Win. This one came close to being perfect, but the calibre was a compromise, too powerful for small stuff like crows and too expensive to shoot on a daily basis.
The .243 was followed by a Sako in .22-250 Rem. This rifle was too heavy to start with, but I tried convincing myself it was perfect because it was a pretty rifle. However, for some reason we just never bonded and after three months I found a new home for it.
A little Sako Vixen in .222 Rem next crossed my path. It really was a sweet little rifle and, launching a 40gr Hornady VMax bullet at well over 3 000fps, it put many warthogs and monkeys to sleep. For some reason I stupidly sold it to a friend – the first rifle that, in my eyes, was as close to the perfect bakkie rifle as you will find. Well, the search continued, and I came across a Howa in .204 Ruger. That one was a good choice too, due to its high-speed bullets and laser-like trajectory – it vaporised varmints out to 300yds.
Like all Howas this one shot very well. What put me off though was the price of its bullets, as well as the fact that .204 Ruger cases are not always readily available in South Africa. I sold the Howa .204 Ruger too, so it was back to the drawing board again.
After my experience with that Sako .222 I wanted a rifle built on a mini action. Then one day I saw an ad on Howa’s mini-actioned rifles. Reading up on them I learnt that these rifles are available in three calibres; .223 Rem, 6.5 Grendel and 7.62x39. The last two did not interest me because I regarded them as unsuitable for my requirements but the .223 Rem made a lot of sense. I must confess though that the .223 Rem never really caught my attention before.
However, my research revealed that cases are affordable (downright cheap actually) are always readily available locally and the same goes for .224” bullets. With this little number you can also get 300 reloads out of a tin of S321 propellant. Suddenly my mind was made up, so I contacted Die Koöperasie in Humansdorp and bought a little Howa mini action in .223 Rem with a 22-inch sporter barrel.
Next, I had to decide on a scope. A Swarovski Z3 3-10x42 happened upon my way but the German nr4-type crosshair was not ideal, and the scope did not have target-type turrets for quick adjustments, should I need to shoot at longer ranges. The price was right though, so I bought it. The Swarovski’s finish and the clarity of the optics impressed me but I never actually used that scope.
Less than a month later and even before the licence for my rifle was approved a Swarovski Z3 4-12x50 with ballistic turret became available at a good price and I snatched it up.
In my mind it had all the right features – enough but not too much magnification, a 50mm objective that would gather ample light under all lighting conditions and target-type turrets for quick adjustments. It appeared to be perfect for the job.
While waiting for the approval of the licence I had already arranged that a gunsmith work on the trigger to reduce the pull weight to less than 1lb and I also asked him to thread the barrel for a silencer. The final product was a Howa mini-action rifle in .223 Remington with a 22” barrel, fitted with a Swarovski Z3 4-12x50 scope with ballistic turret, a shortened Gun Warrior Picatinny-type rail that matched the length of the action, Warne Mountain Tech low telescope rings, a 1” bubble level and last but not least, it was fitted with a Gun Warrior Shorty silencer.
My plan was to replace the standard stock of the Howa but after using it for a while I changed my mind and now I don’t think I will ever do that. The stock is not the standard Hogue one fitted to the Howa Model 1500 rifles, it is made of a hard polymer and comes standard with large metal pillars for the action. The only change I made to the stock was to open up the barrel channel a bit to prevent the fore-end from touching the barrel when using a bipod on the rifle.
AN ACCURATE BULLET
With the rifle ready, the next step was to find an affordable yet accurate bullet to use. The rifle was advertised locally as having a barrel with a rifling twist of 1 in 9”, but from all the info gathered on the internet and communication with Legacy Sports International I am convinced the rifling twist is 1 in 8”. I bought some 53gr Hornady V-Max bullets from a local gun shop because they have a high BC for this weight class. Using QuickLoad I calculated that the best velocity node would be in the region of 3200fps. Starting low, I worked up the load until I reached that velocity. The cartridge’s overall length was 58mm, the maximum length the magazine allows. The first results were not great, always producing a flyer. I tweaked the load several times, but the Howa still produced those annoying flyers.
More research followed during which I learnt that the 53gr bullet might be too short or stubby for the tight rifling twist. So, I got hold of some 60gr Hornady V-Max bullets and immediately the problem was solved. In fact, the rifle grouped well with just about any load I tried with the 60gr bullets. Group sizes ranged between .25” and .5” at 100yds. I eventually settled on a load that launches the 60gr V-Max bullets at 3 000fps.
Having found an accurate load, I tested the Howa at longer distances and was amazed at how well this light-barrelled rifle shoots. Testing was done out to 300yds to set up the calibration of the Z3’s ballistic turret. With that done I found that hitting 10cm gongs out to 300yds was no art. When a friend visited to check his long-range rifle, I decided to give the .223 a go at 450yds and hit a tennis ball-sized bull painted on the gong with the first shot! It was clear that this “bakkie gun” had all the accuracy I needed.
WORKING THE SCOPE
The Swarovski Z3 with its ballistic turret works very well with the .223 Rem. With the rifle zeroed at 100yds, the first dot (green) is my 200yds zero, the second (orange) my 250yds zero and the third (red) the 300yds zero. For distances out to 500yds I use a small DOPE card with the necessary number of clicks written down on it. This card is stuck to the lid of my ammunition box (see photo). For all shots out to approximately 300yds I simply estimate the ranges and adjust the turret accordingly (you have to shoot quickly most of the time, there is no time to use a rangefinder).
Fortunately, the .223’s trajectory is flat enough so that it does not matter if I am out by 10 or 20yds at distances up to 300yds. For shots beyond 300yds I use my Leica rangefinder and normally shoot from the prone position over a Harris bipod and a small CMH squeeze bag.
USING THE RIFLE
I now use the rifle almost daily on vervet monkeys and baboons that do massive damage to our sugarcane fields and avocado orchids. The rifle is light, short and handles very well inside the vehicle, also when I use it for walk and stalk hunting.
On one occasion last year while stalking baboons the terrain was such that I could not get closer than 500yds of the animals. Fortunately, it was a windless day, so I decided to take the shot. Due to the rifle’s low recoil I did not lose sight of the baboon when I fired and saw the bullet impact on the animal’s shoulder. The 60gr bullet dropped the big male baboon on the spot. I do not recommend taking shots at live animals at those distances, but I was really desperate to get rid of that pesky baboon.
Last year I took part in a voorsit shoot for springbuck in the Eastern Cape and naturally the little .223 Howa was my rifle of choice. It turned out to be perfect for the job. In total I shot five springbuck over two days at distances ranging from 150 to 300yds. A friend also used it to bag two springbuck. This calibre is indeed very effective on small antelope.
While working on the farm I came across three warthogs one day busy destroying some crops, and even though not recommended for animals of this size the .223 Rem and 60gr bullets made light work of the three medium-sized boars. I dropped them in quick succession with three shots.
FOUND THE SOLUTION
This little .223 “bakkie gun” has in a short space of time become one of my favourite rifles and when I open the safe, I find it hard not to reach for it first. Its simplicity and the fact that it is so effective is probably what I like about it the most. For a calibre that initially did not really catch my attention and on paper does not have very impressive ballistics, it punches in a class above its weight.
When you are familiar with the .223 Rem’s performance and limitations it can be a great tool. I do not recommend the .223 Rem for general antelope hunting, but if you do your bit it’s a great specialist calibre for varmint/pest control and the culling of antelope up to the size of impala and blesbuck.
Coming back to the header of this article – the .223 Remington is a very popular calibre for which a variety of factory loads and reloading components are readily available locally. So, the .223 Remington should have been my likely choice all along, but the attraction of new, flashy and fast calibres often blurs good judgment and logic. Therefore, one sometimes takes the longer, scenic route to find the unlikely, likely solution.