Hunt Test: Bergara Rifle and Zeiss Optics in Africa & Kansas - a Keeper Kudu & a Ken Uh-Oh
Updated: Feb 24
It's interesting to introduce experienced hunters and shooters to a new, unfamiliar rifle and, after they inspect it, ask, "So what do you think this would cost?"
I did just that in South Africa in August 2015, showing guides and other hunters at Phillip Bronkhorst Safaris the new Bergara B14 Timber rifles. The answers ranged from $1,300 to $2,300. And their eyebrows arched when I disclosed that the rifle had a manufacturer's suggested retail price of just under a grand and was actually selling at retail for about $775.
Yes, paired with a new Zeiss Conquest HD5 scope, it made for an impressive hunting combo.
A version of this hunting adventure and gear review appeared in Safari Club International's "Safari" magazine
Words of my South African hosts echoed in my mind as our safari party studied the steep, rocky hillsides rising above us on both sides of the narrow canyon.
Nuggets of advice included things such as, “The best kudu hunting is at the margins of dawn and dusk.” The “gray ghost of Africa” well deserves its nickname. Mature bulls are notorious for giving you just a scant second or two to shoot before they break cover and flee.
Our plan on this fifth morning of hunting was to arrive in the area right at first light. Ideally, we’d catch a kudu bull in the lowlands before it moved to higher ground at daybreak and bedded down unseen in the steep, rocky hillsides. The sun, though, had been up for nearly an hour as we entered what I came to call “kudu canyon.” I silently feared we might be a little too late...
To see the rest of the article and more photos at SCI's "Hunt Forever," Click Here
My Kansas Screw-Up (objects in your window are closer than they appear)
I also brought the same rifle/scope combo to a southeastern Kansas in mid-December with Kansas Whitetail Adventures later that year (2015). This is land known for monster-racked whitetails, and outfitter Gene Pearcy's lodge is full of examples of the deer roaming the 20,000 acres he hunts.
Beautiful Bucks in Pearcy's Piece of Kansas!
As with Africa, shots could range from chip shots to 400 yards or more. And, as Pearcy, warned, the wind always blows in Kansas.
As luck, bad luck that is, would have it, Kansas and the rest of the Lower 48 states were either suffering from an unparalleled heat wave. For deer, already wearing warm winter coats, and the deer hunters questing for them, the heat was too much, and the big bucks just shut down their movement. Then, we had driving rain for the last day and a half.
I passed up this young buck very early in the hunt
The weather finally broke with about an hour left of legal shooting light on the last day. I was sheltered in a box blind looking over two large fields. At sunset, two young, small bucks emerged a couple hundred yards in front of me with some does. Then, with about 20 minutes of light left, three deer popped out far to my right. One was a small buck, another a doe. The biggest deer was an eight-pointer, not really a wallhanger by Kansas standards, but with time running out he looked darn-sure respectable and damn-sure good enough through the binoculars.
Beautiful Kansas whitetail habitat!
I reached for the rangefinder I had neglected to bring. When I first saw the deer, I guessed they were about 450 yards away. They slowly worked about 50 yards closer and then started moving away on a parallel track. If I was going to shoot, it had to be now. In the waning light, I guesstimated the deer was about 400 yards away, longer than I wanted but as good as I was going to get. The rifle was zeroed for 200 yards. I got a good rest on the blind's shooting window and held a few inches high over the buck's back to compensate for the expected bullet drop. At the shot, the deer dropped where it stood. It never kicked, moved or anything. With darkness approaching in about 15 minutes, I texted Pearcy and said I had one down and he looked stone-cold dead. I got my stuff together to head out of the blind, looked back toward the deer and he was gone! Vanished.
Marching quickly to where he had stood, I looked around for blood and didn't see a drop. Pearcy soon arrived and told me he had seen an eight-pointer run off with another deer as he was driving up. He said both deer looked fine. We still scoured the area, looking for any evidence of a hit. As I replayed the scenario in my head, I pointed out one weird thing about the way that deer dropped. When it fell, instead of crumpling, it went rigid, with its legs standing straight out and in the air. And when I used Pearcy's rangefinder to assess the distance back to the blind , it was just a shade under 340 yards. I had sorely overestimated the distance and held the crosshairs way too high. Instead of hitting the deer in the ribs as desired, we guessed I just barely clipped the top of its back, likely shocking its nervous system, hence the stiff-legged drop. Once it got over that brief shock, it got up and ran off. The betting was he'd recover fine, but it still sucked; no one wants to wound and animal.
I went home venison-less, but learned another hard lesson about ensuring I have the right gear for each scenario. From Africa, I knew the rifle and scope would do their job if I did mine. I didn't. Pearcy and his team were awesome. He even had an extra guitar there and Jeff Johnston and I got to try picking a few tunes. And, in another first, I got to sample great, fresh oysters -- all the way out in Kansas. Chad Shearer, who was our BPI Outdoors host and also filming for his Shoot Straight TV show, ordered up the oysters, Rocky Mountain oysters, that is, from the Prairie Nut Hut, apparently legendary for its fried testicles. You know, they were pretty good!