“They have the biggest canine teeth, per pound of body weight, of any species on earth. Just wait till you see them, Mate.” We were jolting up steep mountainside two-track on South Africa’s Eastern Cape, talking about baboons. A band of them had been raising Cain in the lambing pens, stealing corn out of the feed troughs and threatening the sheep. We’d been keeping an eye out for the troop while hunting plains game, without luck. Now we hunted the baboons specifically, hoping to reduce the pressure they were putting on the sheep.
The terrain was rough, rocky, and broken, with cliff-rimmed mountainsides soaring toward the skies. I was hunting with Dave Davenport, an eighth-generation stockman on the same land. The Boer war had been fought across his ranch, in part, and he showed me tarnished cartridges and bullets he’d picked up from ancient battlefields. The ranch sits deep in a natural horseshoe-shaped valley on the side of the mountains. Dave started Leopard’s Valley Safari here years ago and offers wonderful adventures hunting free-range plains game across the Eastern Cape.
My rifle was a well-balanced bolt action chambered in .280 Ackley Improved, with a 24-inch stainless Cerakoted barrel, hand-laid fiberglass stock, and Timney trigger.
Snugged atop the action in one-piece Talley mounts was a Zeiss Conquest V4 4-16X50 riflescope topped with an adjustable moa turret. I carried a Zeiss Victory RF binocular programmed to match my ballistics and environmental factors, which with a press of the button told me not only the yardage but also a dial-to moa number. It was a simple, fast, and accurate system.
My ammunition was hand loaded in Nosler brass, primed with Federal Gold Medal Match large rifle primers, charged with 59 grains of H4831SC powder, and topped with a 155-grain Federal Premium Terminal Ascent projectile with a BC of 0.586. Chronographed velocity was 2960 feet per second. The combination was lethal way further than I wanted to shoot at game.
A SMUG BABOON
It was late in the hunt when we decided to get earnest about hunting the bandit baboons. We loaded into Dave’s quintessential Toyota Land Cruiser pickup and pointed it toward the mountainside where they liked to retreat during daylight hours. Dusk was coming on, and we hoped to intercept the bandits on their way toward the lambing pens. Cresting a small rise in the two-track, we did just that. The troop scattered into a small canyon, disappearing like so many wraiths into the brush. Except for the dominant male, a burly baboon who dwarfed the other members of his band. He loped across the canyon, strutted onto a small flat on top of the other side, and turned to look at us. Smugly, he sat down in plain sight, confident that he’d outrun our effective shooting distance and was safely out of range. He scratched himself. I found a good rest for my rifle.
The range was 413 yards; not extremely far, but then baboons are not real big. I cranked the scope’s power to eight, adjusted my turret, and settled my crosshairs on the baboon’s chest.
SHOOT OR DON’T SHOOT?
Place yourself in my position. You’re in Africa, drawing down on a marauding baboon. The target is small, not much bigger than a large American Coyote. The shot is long, but you’re shooting an accurate and stable rifle, loaded with superb long-range ammunition. Your optic is excellent and dialed to enable a dead-on hold. Your crosshairs are steady, and the wind is negligible. Do you take the shot?
HERE’S WHAT HAPPENED (TRUE STORY)
The big male still sat, smug in his own estimation of my lack of shooting prowess. I pressed the trigger. He collapsed in a heap. It was the last mistake he ever made.
Fact is, in this case, I’d have taken the shot even if the baboon had been twice the distance. Sure, there is a chance of making a less-than-perfect hit, but baboons are considered vermin across much of Africa, especially when they become problematic and predatory. I wouldn’t feel any ethical conundrum at taking a low probability shot at a grain-stealing rat, and the same applied to these baboons. That said, I was just as confident that I could kill the critter as he was that I couldn’t. Turns out I was right.