The .700 Nitro Express Part 2 by Gregor Woods

  • Tuesday, 13 November 2018 07:52
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The .700 Nitro Express Part  2 by Gregor Woods: Into Africa, something new…

In Part 1 (Nov edition) I described Bill Feldstein’s development of the .700NE, the world’s most powerful nitro express cartridge, and the making of the first double rifle in this calibre by Holland & Holland. This month we’ll discuss Bill’s field test with the .700NE on elephant. 

I mentioned how Bill strove to rep­licate the foot-safaris of the Victorian and Edwardian pioneer hunter/explorers. He sought ever-more primitive and pristine parts of Africa, finally choosing Ethiopia as the ultimate – for its remoteness, its wildness, and for its extremely inhospitable terrain where the use of porters was essential. He chose it also because (due to all those same reasons) big tuskers could still be found there. Ethi­opia, cleft by the Great Rift, is mountainous with tropical rain forests forming the source of the Blue Nile. In all, Bill undertook five separate foot safaris there – solely for elephants – guided by professional hunter Nassos Russos.  

None of the areas they hunted was accessible by vehicle. They would drive by truck to the chosen region, and then engage porters and safari crew among the local tribes­people. Russos can speak Ethi­opia’s official language, Amharic  (one of 83 local languages with some 200 dialects). On a typical safari, the porters would start off eager and happy, but the mountainous terrain and daily torrential downpours soon dampened their enthusiasm. Bill’s quest was to endure the same hardships and obstacles as the early pioneer hunters; well, on a 1988 safari in the rain-forests of the Gurafarda mountain range, he experienced exactly that. They had taken donkeys as pack animals;  within one week, the donkeys were dead – succumbed to some unknown disease – and twelve of the 24 porters had downed their packs and absconded (without pay). 

By now the safari was deep in the mountains, with 1 200lbs of provisions that were essential to the continuance of the safari. They sought more porters at local villages, only to find these people did not speak Amharic. Eventually they found one man with a smattering of Amharic and used him to recruit more porters. It struck Bill what a predicament he’d be in if anything happened to Russos. These tribesmen wore only loincloths, carried spears and bows with poisoned arrows – and were now on his staff! 

Bill had brought a pair of spectacles with two tiny torches attached, one on each ‘arm’shining forwards, thus freeing both hands for rummaging through kit in the dark or for reading. About to turn in one night, he walked a short distance into the bush to go for a leak. Earlier that day, he had almost stepped on a deadly gaboon adder (speared just in time by a porter) so now he wore the ‘night-specs’to light his way. As Bill was returning, a recumbent porter opened his eyes to see this apparition with two glowing eyes approaching out of the darkness. The man leapt up, grabbed his spear and was about to hurl it when Russos, who fortunately was standing by, grabbed the shaft. He gravely warned Bill never to repeat that, as these tribesmen are all expert spear throwers. 

That safari was rough going, but it paid off – Bill shot an elephant with tusks weighing 100 and 104lbs. He used a MacNaughton .600NE double (the .700NE was still being built).  

Read the full article in the December 2018 issue of Magnum

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