Africa, the Dark Continent has been the focus of adventure and conflict for centuries. It is hard to describe really but suffice it to say, Africa has been a fascination to me for a lifetime. It is said that once you have set foot on the Dark Continent, your drive to be there can never be satisfied…some claim Africa captures the soul.
I am not an authority on travel to, or hunting in, Africa, but I’ve been exceedingly fortunate to have traveled there twice now. That drive to go back is already drawing me to plan yet another African excursion, even though I only just returned from my latest trip in the last few weeks.
In late May of 2023, I enjoyed a hunt in the Northern Cape of South Africa. It had been 38 years prior that I spent a month in Zambia. Both trips created memories that will last a lifetime.
My latest outing really began this past January at a meeting with Professional Hunter (PH) Stephen Bann, owner/operator of SB Hunting Safaris. We had scheduled a chat at the Houston Safari Club Convention in Texas. Stephen’s name came up via a mutual friend who had hunted with him several times before. I wanted to meet with Stephen in person to see if SB Hunting Safaris was a good fit for the Plains game hunt I had in mind.
Plans were soon made for a hunt in the Northern Cape of South Africa in May of this year. I was keenly interested in the four color phases of Springbok (common, copper, black, and white), otherwise known as the Springbok Slam.
In addition, the diversity of other plains game species was sure to offer many additional opportunities during my hunt. By May of this year, I found myself in the southern Kalahari region of South Africa with rifle in hand.
While I was ready to try a new big game rifle on this hunt, I also elected to take my old trusted Model 70 .270 Winchester, a rifle that has traveled many thousands of miles with me and taken much big game.
But a key focus of this safari was to put a rifle and a brand through its paces that I had never tried before. The Christensen Arms Mesa FFT is based on a traditional bolt action platform rifle built with the hunter in mind. Weighing only 5.5 pounds without scope and hardware, this gun has the lines and feel of a perfect hunting rifle.
Established in 1995 Christensen Arms is based in Gunnison, Utah. The company stands on their claim of always made in America. Christensen is “focused on incorporating top-tier aerospace materials and processes into production – resulting in some of the most lightweight, precise, and accurate firearms in the industry and around the globe,” according to a company spokesman.
The Mesa FFT that accompanied me on this safari came with Burnt Bronze Cerakote finish on the barrel and action. Its carbon fiber stock is dark green with tan accents, a camo pattern ideal for most any hunting venue. Other camo finishes are available from Christensen. Sling studs are included and the receiver tapped and drilled for scope bases.
Introduced in the first half of 2022, the Mesa “FFT” stands for “Flash Forged Technology.” FFT technology consists of the latest advancements in carbon fiber composites and construction, specifically in the stock and other components. The light but strong sporter style stock, floor plate, and bolt knob all share in helping to eliminate up to one pound of weight compared to most other rifles of the same dimensions.
The Mesa FFT comes standard with a Christensen Arms 416R stainless steel barrel and Featherlight Contour, a removable stainless steel “Seamless” radial muzzle brake, a 1/2 × 28 threaded muzzle, a precision-machined receiver, and as mentioned earlier, a carbon fiber FFT Stock. Accuracy is backed by a sub-MOA guarantee.
I selected the.300 Winchester Magnum for my safari, a tried-and-true option for African plains game such as eland, roan, sable, and wildebeest to mention a few. The Mesa FFT is also available in no less than 15 other chamberings including many of the newer caliber offerings such as 7MM PRC and .300 PRC.
Known to be the perfect weight grain bullet in the .300 Win Mag I chose to utilize 180gr offerings only. I tried numerous brands of factory ammo but the hands down choice for accuracy was Sierra Gamechanger with its 180 grain TGK (Tipped Game King) bullet.
On the range I fired numerous three-shot groups that were no larger than ½ MOA (half-inch at 100 yards). Several three shot groups were also fired at 200 yards and likewise proved to be sub-MOA. Online ammo vendor Lucky Gunner was gracious to provide ammo for the initial testing of the Christensen, including the standout Gamechanger load.
Felt recoil with the .300 Win Mag cartridge was minimal in this rifle considering its light weight. With Christensen’s seamless, removable radial muzzle brake, I can report the recoil is in the same class as the .270 Win or 30-06 Springfield cartridges.
A quality rifle deserves a quality optic. Enter Lucid Optics and their L5 4x-16×44 rifle scope.
Atop the Christensen Mesa FFT, I used the Lucid L5 rifle scope for the entire safari. The Lucid L5 offers a 30mm tube and precise 1/8 MOA windage and elevation adjustments on lockable, tactical-style turrets.
With side parallax adjustment and ocular diopter adjustment, the L5 provides for a sharp target image over the entire magnification range of 4x-16x. The reticle also serves as a precise MOA measuring device with 2 MOA increments below the rifle’s zero along with viable windage values built in.
Lucid Optics also offers quality binoculars that are ideal for the hunter. For this safari I utilized their model B-8, 8×42 magnification binos. They provided a wider field of view and only weigh 24 ounces, perfect for some of the thick thorn brush in Africa. Additionally Lucid offers the model B-10, 10×42 for those who want even more magnification.
As anyone who has traveled overseas with firearms will tell you, the case in which you transport guns is not to be taken lightly. I utilized the rugged Nanuk model 995-gun case that held two rifles. The case, new when I departed, returned showing scars from hard handling and use by the end of the trip.
While the Nanuk case came with standard foam inserts that can be cut to fit the specific profile of one or more firearms, I discovered a much better option. Enter KOR. This company offers a replacement system for the standard foam inserts found in most hard rifle cases.
Officially, the insert is called a “vacuum-ridgidizing structure,” or “VRS.” Company owner GP Searle, has obtained a patent for the system. The VRS is an inflatable bladder or pillow, filled with bean bag-like granules that provide a specific outline of your firearm and holds it securely in the case.
The VRS system works via three simple steps:
- Apply air to the system by a hand pump that is supplied.
- Position the firearm(s) in the preferred position in the case
- Remove the air from the system via the same hand pump.
The end result is a rigid and secure outline specific to your particular firearm not unlike a mold of the gun itself. It stays that way until air is pumped back in, at which time the KOR can be re-configured for any other firearm(s).
There is no question that KOR Universal Firearms Transport System worked on my trip and carried two rifles securely in the Nanuk case for many thousands of miles! The bottom-line result was that both rifles arrived unscathed and were checked for zero once at the safari camp. Zeros on both rifle scopes were still in place and no adjustments required.
My intent on this safari was primarily for plains game and not more dangerous species such as lion, cape buffalo, and so forth. But make no mistake, all African game seems to have a toughness not found in game elsewhere in the world.
Many plains game species are larger-bodied antelope such as wildebeest, gemsbok, roan, sable, eland, and others weighing in the 500 to 1500+ pounds Most hunters in the US or Europe are indoctrinated to shoot big game behind the front shoulder to hit vitals, i.e., the heart and lungs.
For many of the larger antelope in Africa your PH (professional hunter) will advise you to shoot through the shoulder or on the point of the shoulder due to the fact that the vital organs of African game do in fact set farther forward in the chest cavity than game in other regions of the world.
As previously mentioned, my main goal was to take all four color phases of springbok, which are found in many regions of South Africa, white, black, copper and common. In addition, I was looking for some of the larger plains game species including wildebeest, kudu, sable or roan.
My hunting area, at the southern edge of the Kalahari consists of a privately owned ranch of about 50,000 acres. Or in other words, close to 80 sections of land based on US measurements. A huge swath of country by anyone’s standards. In almost all of South Africa, hunting takes place on private ranches, not government-owned concessions as may be the case in other regions of Africa.
I arrived mid-day at Thuru Lodge situated at the southern edge of the Kalahari, about 3 hours west of Kimberly and after a pleasant drive with Stephen Bann upon being picked up from the Kimberly airport. Thuru Lodge was to be our base of operation and hunting camp for the next six days.
Much of the terrain is covered in camel thorn trees or black thorn brush and being elevated is without a doubt advantageous. Stephens well-maintained Toyota Landcruiser pickup offered spectacular views while seated on elevated platforms in the cargo area of the truck. These seats are placed to give the hunter or observers a means of spotting game more effectively.
Most often Stephen or his tracker, Shawn, would be in the back of the Landcruiser with me while the other drove. Essentially a spot and stalk method of hunting. The amount and variety of game seen on a daily basis was astounding. We also hiked to higher terrain on foot and then utilized our quality optics to spot game.
Itching to get into the field as quickly as possible the day of arrival, we had a quick lunch and then were off in search of plains game. It was not long before we were glassing springbok that first afternoon and making short stalks to attempt a good shooting position.
Finally, near the end of the day, we stalked to within a relatively short distance of about 125 yards on a nice Black Springbok ram. I made a one-shot kill off the shooting sticks with the .270 Win., my first animal down on African soil since 1985.
Throughout my safari most shots were taken from the classic shooting sticks so often talked about or seen on the US hunting programs. Moral to the story, practice before your safari from shooting sticks.
Day two began early with hearty breakfast around 6:30am and then to the bush looking for the other springbok color phases and larger plains game. Springbok were seen almost continually but were as elusive or difficult to approach as any of the game seen.
It was not long into the morning before Stephen, who obviously had a talent for spotting game way before I did in most instances, spotted a very nice roan antelope. While not my primary focus, a roan was certainly of interest.
Seeing that the roan was exceptionally heavy in horn with reasonable length we were out on foot to attempt a stalk. Keeping a ridge between us and the antelope we closed the distance to within about 175 yards. Again, from the shooting sticks I fired one shot to the left shoulder and the roan went down immediately. The Christensen and the .300 Win Mag cartridge performed well and provided my first big game taken with either.
As the days passed all too quickly, I took a total of seven Plains game species with the Christensen .300 Win Mag. The rifle and the cartridge performed without a flaw. Roan, sable, Cape Eland, Blue Wildebeest, Red Lechwe, Blesbok, and Common Springbok all fell to the Christensen.
Two of these took more than one shot. Both the eland and the sable required three shots each. Although both were solidly hit with the first shot, they required follow-up shots. As I mentioned previously, African game is tough.
My longest shot with the Mesa FFT .300 Win Mag was around 350 to 400 yards on the Common Springbok. The Christensen proved its accuracy repeatedly and no doubt my pre-hunt time spent on the range was in no small way critical to the overall success of the safari.
In a matter of days, I completed my Springbok Slam taking the White, Black and Copper Springbok with my .270 Winchester. All taken after stalks through the black thorn and from the shooting sticks.
Aside from the Christensen Mesa FFT and my trusted Winchester, the quality gear from Lucid Optics, KOR, the bullet performance of the Sierra Gamechanger ammo, along with a nice custom knife from Mark Wilkie back in New Mexico, all played their own part.
I would be remiss to not give many thanks and praise to Stephen Bann and SB Hunting Safaris. He and his staff provided an outstanding hunting adventure and I plan to be back in one of his safari camps again soon.
Just before sundown on the last day of hunting, I was fortunate to take nice kudu bull amidst the camel- and black thorn near the edge of a long African Plain. The bull fell to my old .270 Win and I was reminiscent of Jack O’Connor’s time in Africa so many years ago and how much he admired the .270 cartridge.
Not long after we drove to the crest of one of the Kalahari’s tall red dunes and reminisced over the past week’s hunt. We enjoyed a brandy around the fire and watched the sun disappear behind the hills of South Africa. Yes, it is safe to say that Africa captures the soul.