The impala and the .22 Hornet
A hunter’s ability is just as important as the calibre he uses.
In 1991 I bought a CBC single-shot break-open rifle in calibre .22 Hornet. I was a student then, with little financial resources at my disposal to afford an expensive rifle such as a Brno or Sako. In addition, break-open rifles appeal to me and I view the .22 Hornet as a legendary cartridge and rifle. The Brazilian-manufactured weapon cost R495 and the Tasco 4x32 telescope, with rings, R500. I got myself a rifle for R995 but I had no money to go on a hunt trip to try it out.
Nevertheless, I had the opportunity on numerous occa- sions to use it on hare, porcupine, guinea-fowl, francolin, pheasant, and, at times, waterfowl. For these, I only used 45-grain factory-loaded ammunition from a number of manufacturers, particularly Sellier & Bellot and Winchester. Factory-loaded ammunition in a heavier bullet was not and I suspect, is not available in South Africa. Hunting very small game, varmint, and game birds with the 45-grain bullet showed the .22 Hornet’s devastating power. As time went by, and my financial position improved, I was able to start
reloading ammunition for the rifle. In fact, I cut my reloading teeth on the little cartridge and developed hunting loads for 50and 52-grain bullets. These bullets proved lethal because of their exceptional accuracy between 100 and 150 metres. Even so, I never had the opportunity to hunt larger game with the rifle.
By accident, so to speak, I got my chance in 2011 to see how the rifle performs in the veld and on medium game. My wife, Colleen and I were on our annual hunting holiday in the Ellisras area. We were planning on hunting impala and warthog. The farm owner told me that he has many impala that he would sell at a good price. We agreed on R700 for an impala and R500 per warthog, and promptly booked our trip to Jacobsloop Game Farm.
We arrived on a Sunday for our six-day hunting safari, and since the owner has a moratorium on Sunday hunting, I checked on my rifles one last time before the hunt the next day. For hunting the impala and warthog, I took my .303 British No. 4 Mk. 1 and Pedersoli .45 target muzzleloader, respectively. I also planned to hunt porcupine and do some wing shooting. For this I packed the Hornet and a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun. As I checked on my arsenal one last time, I discovered I had forgotten my .303’s bolt at home.
Colleen and I discussed the possibility of hunting the impala with the .22 Hornet. I must confess that we were not comfortable with the idea, since the .22 Hornet fires such a small bullet. After consulting with the owner, I decided to go ahead using the rifle. The farmer had a lot of »
» respect for the .22 Hornet and was of the opinion that it is one of the most accurate calibres. He had no objections against me using the Hornet since one of his other guests also uses a Hornet from time to time. My confidence grew, especially after considering my handloaded ammunition: a 50-grain Sierra Spitzer in front of a 9.2 grain Somchem S265 charge in Winchester casings. My rifle is also perfectly sighted at 100 metres. I, therefore, had fair confidence in the rifle and ammunition, despite my reservations of the small bullet’s perceived penetration power on an impala. Stories by those seemingly in the know, is that the .22 Hornet is not suitable for impala. In addition, because it is a single-shot rifle I had some doubts this time around, because I was going to use it as my main hunting rifle. Reloading would take longer than the convenience of the bolt-action Lee-Enfield.
Even so, I decided to go ahead using the Hornet and that Monday morning we went to find impala. After some stalking, we found a herd and I took aim at a big ewe our guide pointed out. I took the shot and heard the satisfying thump. It was quite a high-pitched thump. We followed the blood trail and lost the ewe in the thicket. That morning we could not find the animal, although we found a lot of blood.
My doubts now went up a couple of notches; the bullet was too light to make a clean kill. That afternoon we found the animal in dense sickle bush. Upon inspecting the carcass, I realised why we had searched so long. Neither the rifle nor bullet was at fault; it was the rifleman. I had shot the ewe low and to the front; hitting her in the left shoulder blade. The bullet had missed the vital organs but fully penetrated the body and exited on the far side. Shooting distance was 70m. This was proof that the .22 Hornet was capable of bringing down an impala at such a distance if the rifleman takes better aim.
HOW WE DO IT
Our practice is to hunt in the morning, starting at sunrise until mid-morning, then returning to camp and going out again in the late afternoon. After our deserving rest, we returned to the hunting ground. We walked for a while and then Abraham, our guide, found an impala herd’s spoor. We followed and noticed that it disappeared into a thicket; we could hear the herd milling about in the shade of the bushes. After some crawling around along the thicket’s edge, Abraham could only see impala legs. We decided to take up position under a wild fig, a short distance away. Through an opening in the thicket, we could see the impala’s legs and nearby three warthogs, who were enjoying the wild fig. Abraham suggested that I waited until one of the impala lay down before taking the shot. I looked at the legs through the opening. It was quite a wait and after a while, a ewe finally lay down. She looked directly into my telescope and I fired. It was a perfect headshot at about 12 metres. The Hornet had now proved its mettle. When you are used to the recoil of the .303 and .45 muzzleloader, the kick of the Hornet is slight, diminishing the chances of flinching while pressing the trigger. This was the second of four impala we had on our list.
I then focused my attention on the warthog, but this is a story for another time. The third im- »
» pala I bagged using the CBC, was at a moderate distance. This time the rifleman was spot-on and the bullet went through hitting the heart dead centre. The impala ran for about 50 metres before going down. I was now convinced of the rifle and cartridge’s capabilities in bringing down impala.
We were coming to the end of our hunt and on the second last day we were stalking a herd of impala when we found them crossing a cattle fence. We were some distance away but I had a clear shot down a straight path. I leopard crawled and positioned myself behind brush after consulting with Abraham as to which animal he considered the largest. I took position and carefully aimed. The impala were in no hurry to jump the fence and were completely unaware of our presence. I selected my quarry and fired. Again, the familiar thump of the bullet hitting home. The herd now jumped the fence with urgency and the prey took off along the fence. The animal did not run far before collapsing. When reaching the downed impala, we noticed it was a perfect side-on shot that had hit vitals. I paced the length from where the impala stood to where I fired from and to my amazement it came to about 132 paces, (112 of my paces are approximately 100 metres). I was impressed, not with my shooting but again with the rifle and cartridge’s perfor- mance. The bullet had carried through the impala at this distance. My confidence had taken a dip after the first ewe and then slowly picked up as I achieved repeated successes on the following impala.
The take home from this is to check your equipment, check it again, and then to check it a third time before leaving for the bushveld. In addition, not all farmers view the small rifle cartridges such as the .22 Hornet and even the .223 Remington with disdain. How other people view the small cartridges and rifles can have a psychological knock-on effect and constitute a perception in the hunter that her or his equipment is not up to the task. My experience taught me that a hunter must take ‘rifle range calibre talk’ with a pinch of salt.
On this hunt I learnt that it is not the cartridge or the rifle that should be viewed with derision. A successful hunt with a small cartridge depends on the hunter’s ability and rifle range practice time. Shot placement is of cardinal importance. My copy of Natie Oelofse and Wayne Hendry’s The Practical Shot always ac- companies me on hunts. I take time before going out to study shot placement on the particular animal I am about to hunt. Such a practice helps to realign one’s senses since you cannot remember where to place the shot after reading such a book only once. Although I had a look at the shot placement on the impala pages on the first morning, the most important lesson I learnt during the hunt is that shot placement is just as important as the calibre (with this, I don’t want to suggest placing good shots on impala with a .177 air rifle and expecting success).
Beautiful bushveld on Jacobsloop game farm.
TOP: The impala I shot at close range with the CBC Hornet. BOTTOM: Part of Jacobsloop game farm where I hunted the impalas.
The CBC’s single-shot action. Note the case extractor protruding from the chamber.
My CBC .22 Hornet with the Tasco scope. I added the bipod after the impala hunt.
It was along this path and fence that I shot the last impala.