The Storm Bringer
Some effort had gone into bringing a sporterised .303 into hunting shape, as told by Marcus O'Dean.
It had been too long between goat hunts in the beautiful NSW Central West and I only had a small window of a few short days in February to test out my new acquisition, a sporterised No4 in the indomitable .303 British.
I'd bought it to go after sambar and since this trip I'd been on an Alpine Victorian foray with it, using the marvellous woodleigh 215gn Weldcore Roundnose bullet. My load development was simple and brief, as it was a pussycat to load and shoot very good groups at near maximum loads of AR 2208 and AR 2209. Unfortunately, success was not to be mine, but my son, accompanying me for the first time in years, decked a nice big hind and yearling for the freezer with his .30-06.
Now I'd had subsequent thoughts about loading a bullet that was lighter than the traditional weights in .303 and the 123gn Hornady .3105" diameter bullet intended for the 7.62x39 Russian cartridge had yielded stellar results in Service Rifle competition out to 200 metres. While my barrel was only 18 ½-inches long I was not going to get the 2800fps my SMLE target rifles yielded, it'd certainly better the velocity performance of the Russki round for which it was intended. As it turned out, it delivered about 2625fps and fine hunting accuracy. A quick check on the Sierra Infinity 6 program revealed that I'd be fine shooting medium game within 250 metres.
So, meeting up with Alex mid afternoon on day one, we got straight into it, after packing a few rounds to see if we could whistle up a fox or two. Now Alex hits them pretty hard in season, whistling them in for cover photos or to shoot them for graziers who want them obliterated, so we drove to several old haunts, walking up to a kilometre from the vehicle each time. This stretched my legs a little to prepare me for later efforts on goats, but more on that later.
We eventually crested a a big knoll, on which sat a water tank. Sitting down amongst some deadfall in the shade of the lone tree atop the knoll, we had a wide view of a few hundred metres of cleared saddle and valley with eucalypt forest behind. We faced directly into the wind and when I blew the Tenterfield with a few quick raspy notes, it resulted in a nice vixen coming right in along the saddle towards us. She stopped about 30 metres out and I planted a Hornady right in her chest.
While happy with this satisfactory outcome, I stayed put in case something else may eventuate. Sure enough, down in the broad valley, a dog fox was advancing while I shot the vixen, but at the shot, he plonked his bum on the deck, looking unconcerned. With the sun behind him, I estimated him being around 200 metres out as I assumed the prone unsupported position, wrapping the sling around my left arm. The old 4X Kahles gave a pretty good sight picture as I quartered his chest and sent another winged messenger from the No 4 Savage. He just got emphatically bowled over, never to move again.
I must say I was impressed by the little rifle and load and I think you'll see that from the picture, but with the sun rapidly dipping lower, we decided to pack up shop and go home for a feed and plan for the following day on the goats out near Hargraves.
Now feral goats don't require you to be out glassing pre-dawn, so we had a leisurely 5am breaky, drove to the property and got up to the first high ground when Ol' Eagle Eye (OEE) Alex was onto them. He quietly braked, then reversed until we were on the reverse slope as I noticed a small mob feeding seemingly just over the dip.
I alighted and put three rounds in the mag – did I say that it has a 10-round magazine – and made my way downhill using a big tree between me and the goats as cover for my approach. Alex stayed up top watching through his binoculars.
There was one billy who seemed to be the dominant male, sniffing up nannies and seeing off the amorous intentions of others. He was barely average in the horn department but the cockie wanted them gone, so I waited for an opportunity for the billy to present a decent shot. My patience was being tested for over 10 minutes when suddenly he popped out from behind cover to face me. On the slightly downhill 100 metre shot I held high on his chest and let fly. The rest of the mob milled around and soon trotted away and I went to inspect goat number one for the Storm Bringer.
“What the …!” I thought as I approached him. He was hit in the front of his head and the bullet exited below and behind his right horn. He must have dipped his head just as I fired and copped the headshot as a consequence. Stranger things have happened on hunts but I was pleased to open the account of the “three-oh” on medium game after its “two-for-two” stunning success on foxes yesterday.
We drove on and parked the car in a stand of trees above a small creek that ran along the base of a range of steep hills that formed a continuous ridge in front of us some 1.5km distant. On the other side of this ridge, the country dropped off into a spectacular small gorge about 300 metres deep. We hoped that by walking from here, we may see some handy mobs on the face of the hills in front of us, but that was not to be, as we spotted white shapes moving up the top. The wind was marginal for us to stalk in but if we didn't we'd have to jump a boundary fence to approach them against the breeze. Girding our loins, we started the stalk, first down into the creek and then across, up a covered approach to where we hoped the goats would stay.
Feeling every bit of my 58 years, we broached the crest opposite where we thought the goats would be, but were dismayed to find they had scarpered. We halted, doffed our packs and had a drink and proceeded to glass around, walking to different vantage points in a rough 100 metre radius of our position.
There they are, reported Alex, but I didn't like where his binos were pointing, down in the gorge. In fact we saw several mobs, but many were along way away on other properties, so we concentrated on a small mob downhill of us, about 15 minutes' descent away nearing a creek at the base of the gorge. Wasting no time, we shouldered our packs and rifles and zig-zagged 300 metres down the hill, saving us from grinding our knees to paste. At a suitable spot where we were concealed by a stand of bushes, we plonked ourselves down to observe the mob, which seemed unconcerned.
Soon, I identified a huge-bodied billy, with a two-tone coat, that was busy feeding. Once again, I waited, sitting and slung up, until he presented a shot at around 80 metres. Hit hard by the Storm Bringer, the billy piled up within 10 metres and we went down to check him out. He must have had the biggest body of any billy I have ever seen or shot. Again his horns weren't so flash, but I was happy to have goat number two under my belt. I couldn't have asked for better performance from a rifle and ammo in that circumstance.
Once again, we had a short spell, eating a muesli bar and having another drink before we had to tackle the climb out. We were cooled by a nice stiff breezy thermal on the way up and in about 25 minutes we were back on top, and not feeling too bad for the exercise. Now we were there, we both simultaneously spied a big mob of goats across a small gully from a dam. Fortunately the thermals must have carried our scent up and over their heads because they were in our direction of travel from the base of the gorge.
We were about 400 metres away and they were on a small pimple of a crest. It would be necessary to halve that distance to give the .303 a fighting chance on any good billy, so we worked obliquely down to the gully, looking for decent cover. About half way down, it was evident the goats had cottoned on, so we propped and glassed.
“He's the best we've seen today,” Alex whispered and he drew my attention to a really nice black and grey billy husbanding a mob of nannies. I wasn't anywhere near where I could take a comfortable, well-executed shot, so I indicated to Alex that I needed to advance under cover towards a small stand of trees further downhill and overlooking a small dam. So, crouching and walking like a retarded Groucho Marx, I made my way as quietly as possible to that spot. I don't know how he did it, but 20 seconds later, all 6 foot 5" of Alex suddenly popped up beside me – God I'd hate to be the German sentry on the bridge to his British Commando!
I started to get my bearings with my riflescope, but it is a 1960s model Kahles 4-power and lens coatings were a bit rudimentary in the day. We were looking straight up into the sun and the billy and his mob were shielded from the sun by the shade of a huge spreading tree at nearly 200 metres distant. Having difficulty picking the billy out with the scope, I kept alternating between my Vortex Talon 10x binoculars (no problem there) and the Kahles, because he was moving his nannies around under that tree. Once I had him pegged with the riflescope, he'd move again and I'd start all over. To cap it off, he wasn't going to make this easy, as he would manouevre his nannies in front of him and peer over their heads in our direction. He knew that something was rotten in Denmark, but he wasn't sure.
We stayed quiet and still for a little while and he settled, moving to one side of the obstructive nannies and I had my chance. He was broadside and halted momentarily, so with the handicap of the scope I quartered his shoulder as well as I could, resting my left hand against a spindly branch on the bush adjacent to me and shot him, whereupon he took five shaky downhill paces and expired. Alex, watching through his binos said, “He's done and dusted, Marcus. Good shot!” in the best guide parlance. I perceived that as one of the more difficult shots that I have ever taken in the field and I was a bit shaky from the stress of the event.
We had minute's breather to compose ourselves, rose from our cover and made our way down and up the pimple to find him. With this fellow, I'd need to do a post mortem, because I could see the exit wound out one shoulder. So, I set to work with my knife, oblivious to his stinkiness, and found that the little 123gn slug had done all that could be expected of it. In one shoulder, through his deep chest cavity and out the other side. The 1942 Savage No4 Mk1* .303 had done its job beautifully and vindicated the choice of bullet. To top it off, he had an unusually formed big horn spread of 33 inches, the best for the trip.
We decided to take it easy for the afternoon, as it was only just after midday, so we got back to the car, boiled the billy and had our lunch of sandwiches and fruit, before spreading out under the shade on the grass to have a long and blissful nap. On the way back at dusk, we stopped to video a coming colourful electrical storm and doe kangaroo, the subject of the opening image of this article, hence the rifle's name of “Storm Bringer”.
Sometimes the humble goat can be a most worthy game animal.
The Rifle and Load
The rifle is a Savage No4 Mk1* converted from brand new by friend Roly Muscat. The flash eliminator on the end of the docked 18 ½ inch barrel comes from an SLR and the synthetic stock is of unknown origin, but it is stiff and a good stable platform for accuracy. The receiver and charger bridge were drilled and tapped for a Hillver bridge mount and the scope is a 1960s vintage Kahles 4x32.
Handload consisted of once-fired HXP Greek Military Boxer-primed cases, full length sized and trimmed to 2.210". Primer is a PMC Russian standard large rifle, charged with 46gn AR 2208 and topped with the Hornady .3105 7.62 soft point with cannelure. The bullet is seated to the cannelure and then factory crimped. MV was chronographed at 2609fps. With a a 3.7 inch high 100 metre zero and an 8-inch vital zone, the Hornady yields a 250 metre Maximum point Blank Range. Therefore a backline hold at 300 metres would be stretching it for 780ft-lbs remaining energy.
CAUTION: As always, it is necessary to work up to your working load from manual starting loads, watching at all stages for excess pressure.