January 13, 2011 Leave a comment
The first legitimate encounter with the President of Horus Vision, Dennis Sammut, was at lunch the day he spontaneously slapped the title of Production Manager to my job description three weeks after I started at his company. I was given the task of dabbing Dennis’ head with cover-up to take away the glare and scold him anytime he added his favorite filler phrase, “in here,” within his presentation. To be honest, I was ecstatic, but wow, I had not yet come close to the realization of how much entertainment I would be blessed with.
I had just moved back home from New York where the closest thing to a hunter I encountered was a headhunter, and hunting season consisted of recruiting newly graduated college students into slave labor sales jobs. I was tired of the New York scene, so I moved back where I came from, right in the heart of the Bay Area in a city called San Bruno, not far from San Francisco (I know, I’m always shooting myself in the foot when I admit such a thing). That is where I began my epic journey with Horus Vision and where I met a different kind of hunter- one unlike any other and certainly the farthest thing from a headhunter. Who would have thought I could be in store for such a treat in the land of fruits, nuts, and flakes…
After dulling the glare on Dennis’ forehead and assisting Dennis with such things as combing over his hair, and drawing some last minute changes on his instructional boards, we took a lunch break.
I joined the guys for lunch, which included Ted the Videographer, Todd the Professional Shooter, and Dennis the Head Honcho.
Dennis was holding court, and I just sat back and took everything in, chuckling at the madness unfolding into a masterpiece of unintentional comedy right before my eyes.
I had ordered frog satay for lunch that day, and at one point zoned out of the conversation to examine my mystery meal. Dennis all of a sudden abruptly caught my attention with a rush of greater intensity than he was already exuding and exclaimed, “I’m not a police officer! I’m not a civil servant! I’m not a soldier! I’m a donkey hunter!”
I nearly spit that frog satay from my mouth, as I burst into laughter. Again, he was completely serious, with not a tone of joking present anywhere in his diction.
Ted and Todd were trying to hold in their laughter, but had trouble after seeing that I had no shame with my cackles over in the corner.
Dennis turned to me and said with great earnest, “I’m serious, in here! I’m a donkey hunter. How do you think I developed the reticle for Horus Vision? I was shooting the overrun donkeys in Australia, in here, and it was so boring, I had to see how far I could get to shoot them to make it interesting since they are so goddamn slow!”
I just laughed in his face. I believed him, but I couldn’t let him think he could get away with such a ridiculous concept without acknowledging how crazy he sounded. Apparently he wasn’t too crazy, as Todd Hodnett said, “Basically it is his simple approach to long range thinking and trying to fix a problem that he incurred while in the field. Thus the Horus reticle was born. Genius.”
Now I had to find out the background to this madness.
I caught up with a long-time friend of Dennis, named Bob Penfold. He gave me quite the history lesson on how the Donkey Hunter came to be, which I decided to add verbatim, because it was too good to pull apart.
Bob Penfold’s Personal Account about Dennis the Donkey Hunter
Dennis was an avid river rafter for 20 years. He rafted most great rivers across western USA during his career. He was looking for further adventures.
He began hunting first in Alaska and then in Africa; however, really knew little about guns or hunting. He asked retired Colonel TD (Tom) Smith, a well known shooting teacher, to assist him in learning about hunting and shooting. If nothing else, Dennis is a determined person who wants to know how to do everything in the best possible way.
Tom and Dennis arrived in my buffalo hunting camp 25 years ago. Tom shot a big buffalo, and then asked if there was anything else to shoot. So I took him donkey culling in the same area.
To cut a long story short, Tom was a great shot at standing animals, at any distance, but he could not shoot any game running. I showed him how to do it and he asked me how I learned to do that. I told him I had taken 100,000 practice shots to get that good.
While I taught Tom how to shoot, he asked me if I would teach Dennis how to shoot. So began a long and great partnership between Dennis and me.
Never doubt how tough an individual Dennis is. He is both physically and mentally very tough. He accepts criticism readily and his determination to learn overrules his normal dominant attitude to life.
He never complained when we were lost exploring new terrain. On the numerous occasions we were bogged in knee deep mud, he never flinched at wading around in the mud dragging winch cables to trees or doing the difficult physical work required of adventuring and exploring the remote outback cattle stations.
While I was teaching Dennis I swore at him, abused him, and cursed him very often whenever he made mistakes. He simply smiled and always said, “Show me how”.
After trying to shoot some donkeys at 600 yards using guesstimated formulae’s, and missing them, he asked if there was a way to better shoot them accurately every time. I explained to him that it was the equipment that was lacking the ability, not the shooter. That evening after returning to camp Dennis drew on a piece of paper, a sight picture that is very similar to the Horus scope system that Dennis has patented and is using as the basis for his sighting system to this day.
Dennis went home and commissioned a German scope manufacturer to make him a scope with the crosshair in the upper third of the sight picture and with some grid references spread across the vertical line. This original design gave Dennis the sight picture that he needed to get a correct hold on the animals to shoot them perfectly with each shot, no matter what the range.
Dennis returned to Australia again the next year to test his new scope system. It worked just great. We found a bunch of about 20 donkeys at 600 yards and Dennis shot each of them with single killing shot “ in the base of their neck” using a 30-06. When we drove the Toyota 4WD to where they were all laying dead, only one required a second finishing shot.
Dennis was now on a roll. He then made further modifications to the scope. He installed a distance measuring grid so that the distance to the animal could be measured by looking through the scope. This distance was applied to the special crosshair grid, and then the animals were dispatched one after the other without a single miss even at very long ranges. This was supplementary to the various laser range finders that he carried and tested.
Dennis was ecstatic. He returned to USA and made further refinements. He included a chronograph to test the bullet velocity in the hot dry outback air in his pack. He needed this information to include in his palm pilot computer that he now carried out in the field. He carried an instrument to measure wind velocity and another to measure air moisture levels. He fitted a horizontal bubble check device to check his level of hold for each shot on his rifles.
Dennis saw no limitations to his invention. He experimented with bigger and smaller calibres and refined his scope sighting system over and over after each trip to Australia until he has what he considers being his perfect sniper system to which any average shooter can apply in the field. This development took Dennis 10 years and 10 trips to Australia to test his systems in the field.
We set up a target at 1600 yards in the pre-dawn darkness. There are zero air currents at this time in the morning in the outback area we were hunting. Dennis shot groups from the sandbags mounted on the hood of my Toyota. There were no hardships, lack of sleep, being bone tired and exhausted that stopped Dennis perfecting his sighting system. He is one tough puppy.
While he invested a lot of money in patents, he never stops thinking about what further refinements he can make to further perfect the system. He now has them especially manufactured to his own specifications to ensure that his buyers received only the best possible quality products from the Horus Vision line.
Dennis is definitely different. He is loud, the leader of any expedition. He is definitely eccentric. We all are, but Dennis is “way out there” in his leadership and organisational capacity to lead and have others faithfully follow.
In the field Dennis allowed me to be the boss until he gleaned from me every bit of information that he could absorb. I pushed him harder and harder, never letting up on the push for perfection until I was satisfied that I had taught him about all I could teach him about killing stuff under every circumstance.
I pushed him so hard- first to learn to kill every animal with a single shot, then how to do it with consistency on running game. The finale’ was to teach him to shoot every animal that was running in the head, killing them with consistent head shots. He learned how to do that consistently with a bolt action rifle.
I believe when I teach someone to shoot, when they can shoot running game in the head with consistency using a bolt action rifle, they have learned about all that I can teach them.
During one of our last trips together I found a herd of 11 donkeys grazing in a valley. I instructed Dennis to “go headshot every one of them after you get them running”. Dennis loaded up and walked towards the donkeys. They saw him, and became agitated before breaking into a run in line, following each other. Dennis killed every one of the 11 donkeys with headshots and used only 13 rounds of ammo to achieve that.
It was then that I figured I could not teach him anymore. He was as good as I could make him.
Before each trip into the outback I would fly in one full carton of Coca Cola for every day that Dennis would be in camp. He would often drink 6 to 8 cans before breakfast. You wonder why he was wide awake, focussed and ready for anything. He kept himself wired all of the time.
I must add that I consider Dennis to be a really good friend. He helps anyone who is honest and sincere. He helped me on several occasions when I needed assistance he was able to give and sought no thanks.
Dennis is a joker. He leads the evening dinner table discussions on politics, guns, ammunition, people and joke telling. He sure is fun to have in camp. He loves to eat good food and my wife, Kay, loved to cook for him.
Here is a guy who lives on his nerves, and is definitely an eccentric personality. He needs to be the leader and to have everyone else follow, but at the same time has great respect for every lady, and especially loves his wife and children.
One of my favourite memories was when we were testing his latest refinement in his Horus Vision technology. We were searching for extreme range donkeys by cruising the high hills above a plain, which we knew donkeys travelled to feed areas early each morning.
I pulled the Toyota 4WD up under a big shade tree and we set up to see what we could find. After some time I located several donkeys feeding in the open, “way out there”.
We ranged the donkeys using the range estimator that was built into the sight picture of the scope. The range showed at around 1600 yards.
Dennis took all of the air temperature, moisture content and air current readings before using a special long range laser range finder to check the range. He determined that the donkeys were 1650 yards, confirming our visual readout taken via the scope range estimator grid. He entered all of the data into his palm pilot which determined the rifle hold for the shot.
We discussed the shot, the range, the computer readout and the circumstances. There is no rush when the donkeys are a mile away, feeding in the early morning warmth.
Dennis set up his special 308 Winchester rifle that was fitted with the Horus Vision scope on the sandbags on the hood of the Toyota. He took careful aim while I set up my view through the 60 power spotting scope.
After the shot broke, I waited what seemed like some seconds before the shot arrived at the donkey and knocked him off his feet.
What a shot. A single shot kill at one mile, first shot, without any sighters. I was there, on the hill with Dennis when he made the kill. This was singularly the greatest single shot kill at extreme range that I have ever seen.
There were many more memorable moments when hunting with Dennis, however this was the highlight, the culmination of 10 years of work and fun in the sun with Dennis.
We are still friends after 15 years travelling, hunting, and enduring the hard and the fun times together. It was always like hunting with a friend rather than being a “me guide you client” relationship. We operate as a team and we both have great memories of our good times together. We may get together again in the field in Australia one day. I look forward to that prospect.
Dennis makes a great friend, but like me, I suspect that I would not like him to be my enemy.