The Long Shot by Dennis Sammut

In 1999, I planned a trip to test the improvements to my invention, my baby, the third-generation prototype ultra-long-range Sammut Custom Reticle.  My trip took me to Limbunya, a remote two-million-acre outback cattle station (as ranches are called down under) located in the southwest corner of Australia sprawling, sparsely populated Northern Territory.

Limbunya, like many cattle stations in the Northern Territory, is plagued by problems with feral donkeys and camels that threaten the ranchers’ livelihood and the local eco-systems equilibrium.  If a rancher fails to address the feral animal problems sufficiently, the government hires a helicopter hunter and sends the bill to the farmer.

In 1999, I contracted with Bill Penfold of Hunt Australia, an outfitting firm, for what would be my seventh culling safari.  I have personally taken over 2,000 animals on these cull hunts, which are not without their dangers.  The brush is infested with venomous snakes and spiders.  Twice, I had uncomfortably close encounters with King Browns, very aggressive and deadly snakes.

I arrived at Limbunya in the early afternoon.  Within three hours I was at the station’s airstrip with my steel measuring tape.  Using stakes, a heavy hammer, and two guides, I laid out a precise 800-yard range marked in 100 yard increments. 

Once our range was set up, our party zeroed their rifles.  After a hearty meal and a peaceful night’s sleep under the Southern Cross, we set off on our safari.  This was a one-on-one hunt, each hunter with his own guide in a separate vehicle.  We would each cull in a separate area of the 3,000 square-kilometer ranch.

My weapon was a 32-inch barrel rifle custom built by Glen Pearce of Pearce Quality Rifles in Sierra Vista, Arizona.  It was chambered for the 300 Warbird, and sported a Schmidt and Bender 4 – 16 power by 50mm scope fitted with my ultra-long-range Sammut custom reticle.

 —

The blazing Australian sun high overhead and slightly behind me, I had a picture perfect view of the target.  My surveyor’s ribbon and anemometer indicated a 7 o’clock, 8 to 13 mph wind, just brisk enough to prevent those nasty Australian flies from landing on my face and neck, but not too strong to make the shot.  Conditions were nearly perfect.

I settled into shooting position, resting my rifle on the vermiculite-filled bags on the hood of my Toyota Landcruiser.  Bracing myself against the left fender, I slowly increased the scope to 16 power and brought the target into sharp focus—a group of feral donkeys standing near some brush.

Using the reticle’s built-in range finder, I carefully calculated the range based on the height of each donkey’s shoulder from the ground.  Since the donkeys varied in size, I took 5 varied measurements and averaged them to 1,370 yards; the animals were just over ¾ of a mile away.

Horizontal line #7 provided the correct holdover for that range.  I had previously adjusted the reticle’s windage and elevation values for each of its 13 lines.  After arriving on the Australian ranch, I had readjusted the values of those lines by shooting at various targets.

One donkey moved away from the group, stopping on some dry, bare hardpan, facing me.  This was perfect; if I missed, I could easily see where the bullet struck.  Then, if necessary, I could use my reticle’s unique built-in second-shot correction feature.

I adjusted the scope for a 10 mph wind and, moving my left hand to the scope’s variable power ring, I slowly reduced the power until the mirage decreased to within a reasonable limit.  I loaded a single 3000 Lazzorini Warbird Cartridge (7.62 x 82, 92.7 grains of RL19, fitted with a Remington 9 ½ m primer, and capped with a Moly-coated 200-gr Spitzer boat tail bullet) and gently closed the bolt.

I locked myself into a position where my rifle and I became a single unit.  I raised the rifle until horizontal line #7 and the central vertical crosshair overlay the donkey’s chest, compensating for bullet drop in one easy step.  To account for wind deflection from the 7 o’clock breeze, I moved my rifle slightly to the left, visually traveling along horizontal line #7 to the first hackmark right of center.  Keeping my right eye on the target, I opened my left eye for a brief glimpse of my gun-leveling device to be sure I was not canting my rifle.

I began to control my breathing, careful not to inhale any of the flies buzzing around my head.  I gently began to squeeze the 2.5 pound trigger.  After the recoil, I repositioned the rifle and scope and saw a lifeless donkey with what appeared to be a chest shot.

When I examined the carcass up close, I saw that it was a perfect head shot instead of the intended chest shot.  It may have been my error, or a slight updraft, or some unknown factor.  My reticle had worked, though; this 1,370 yard kill was my longest shot at a donkey to date.  I had taken shots at longer ranges, but only at inanimate objects.  My longest balloon “pop” was at 1,800 yards.  I have absolute confidence that my rifle, ammo, scope, and skill enable me to consistently make one-shot kills at extended ranges.  Wounding animals is unacceptable; if I can’t make the shot, I don’t shoot.

This long-range shot was the culmination of months of work, both back in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Australia.  The pre-trip portion was devoted to improvements to the prototype custom reticle and grid that I had used on the previous year’s hunt in Australia.  During that 1998 hunt, I had carefully recorded muzzle velocities, weather factors, and notes on every aspect of the performance of my prototype reticle.

Successful long range shooting depends on such prep work.  I averaged 1998 weather information to prepare for the 1999 hunt (see Appendix A).  The atmospheric differences probably account for the difference in muzzle velocity in the SF Bay Area vs. the Australian outback.  I averaged 18 shots from 3 rifles, and found variance in muzzle velocity large enough to significantly affect holdover (See Appendix B).

In the movies, snipers make kills at a mile or more simply by squinting to dramatic music and taking a few seconds to aim.  Those of us who have made such shots know better; consistent extended range kills depend on careful preparation that gives you an intimate knowledge of your equipment and the shooting conditions.  It is a science as much as an art, and I couldn’t be happier with my instrument, the Sammut Custom Reticle.

Appendix A:  Atmospheric Conditions in Limbunya

All values entered into ballistics software designed for use with my reticle.

            Barometric Pressure:          28.45 (unadjusted for altitude)

            Relative Humidity:   22%

            Temperature:                        95 o  F – 106 o  F

            Elevation:                  1,500 feet

Appendix B: Muzzle Velocities, comparison between San Francisco Bay Area and Australian Outback.  All measurements reflect feet/second.

 30-06 Federal Classic

150 gr Remington Extended Range

 San Francisco: 2,907 (based on a 10 shot average)

Australian Outback: 3,110 (based on a 6 shot average)

300 Winchester Mag

190 gr Remington Extended Range

 San Francisco: 2,889

Australian Outback: 3,075

300 Warbird Handload

 San Francisco: 3,425 (based on a 6 shot average)

Australian Outback: 3,446

www.HorusVision.com

Advertisements

A Hot Shower and a Date with Ms. Brown

Ever since I was a child, I loved those true life adventure stories about rugged individuals braving and conquering insidious natural threats of fang, tooth, and claw.  My love was a mixture of terror and fascination; I surely never wanted to meet with a lethal beast and fight for my life, yet I loved nature. The more remote and rustic the better, and I knew that, unlike stories of dragons and aliens, animal attacks were not fantasy.  These things happened all the time.

I remember one day in particular, sitting in a barbershop where my mom had sent me to get my ears lowered, and I picked up one of the cool magazines we never had at home.  I read a story about rattlesnakes crawling into a hunter’s sleeping bag and curling up on his chest.  I have nightmares about that story to this day.

The horror of this particular scenario came, of course, from what it violated.  We’re never more relaxed and off our guard than when we’re lazing about in a warm sleeping bag after a restful night under the stars; the birds chirp, the sun streams through the trees, and we stretch…only to find our soft, vulnerable body covered with venomous snakes.  The horror!  I managed to confine this particular horror to nightmares by always meticulously checking my surroundings, bed, and tent, but the damn things just bided their time and found me later.  So this is my true story of a near lethal encounter with a fearsome reptile; for all men who value the sanctity and relaxed ritual of a warm morning shower and shave, read on at your own risk.

Two buddies and I were on an 11-day culling safari with Hunt Australia in the Northern Territory.  Bob Penfold, our chief guide and host, selected a superb operating camp: Kirkimbie station, an old abandoned cattle station.  Fixed up with flushing toilets, hot and cold water, and bedrooms with linen sheets, Bob had given us first class accommodations for this sort of venture.  But we were still 500 miles, a full 16 hours drive, from Darwin, the nearest town, so we were acutely aware that any serious injury could be lethal.

Fixed up as it was, Kirkimbie seemed a bit embattled.  Numerous holes from vandals besotted the exterior walls, a thin screen was all that separated us from billions of flies, and it was explained to be that no wood had been used in the construction because ants would eat it.  The floor was a concrete slab, the walls made of metal studs covered with a non-wood dull green veneer.

The hunt was quite successful and we had a lot of fun.  The 11th and final day came, and Bob’s wife had prepared a final feast.  After dinner, our group packed up our guns, equipment, and clothes.  We prepacked our vehicle and set out alarms to leave just enough time for a quick shower and shave before our departure at 3:00 AM the next morning.

My 2 AM alarm sounded.  I let my buddies shower first and ate toast and leftovers in the kitchen, washed down with leaded Pepsi.  Good leftovers, I suppose, good toast, but if I knew that this might be my last meal, I would have requested something else.  Just as if I’d known what awaited me in the bathroom, would have gone in armed with more than a towel and a shaving kit.

The shower invigorated me, awakened my senses.  I noted that disgruntled jackaroos had accented the 6 by 3 foot shower area with numerous holes.  As I completed the first downward stroke on the right side of my face, my right eye caught some movement in one such hole on the wall opposite the shower entry.  Hunting experience told me not to move or make direct eye contact.  I carefully studied the reflection in the mirror and determined that it was a large circumference snake with light and dark brown markings coming through a hole and coiling on the ground about 16 inches from my left foot.

I fear and hate snakes, yet was strikingly calm and cool.  I focused on survival; it was a King Brown snake, the 3rd most deadly snake in the world, capable of striking at abdominal height numerous times in a single attack and injecting up to an ounce of toxin.  And even one bite this far in the outback would mean almost certain death.  Everything was suddenly in slow motion, and I was acutely aware of my meaty, dripping legs and feet. 

I started talking to myself, whispering…“This is a hell of a way to die.”  I imagined my wife and child crying at my memorial service.  It was a beautiful service, dignified- but what an undignified death. 

“Stop thinking like a fool,” I said to myself.  “It’s time for action.”

I noted that the snake’s head was directed towards me while the balance of its length was still coming through the wall.  I surveyed my surroundings.  I needed a weapon or distraction.  All I had a large brown leather shaving kit that I’d received for Father’s Day.  Without moving my torso, I deftly transferred the kit to the left side of the vanity.  The snake’s tail exited the wall.  We were both ready to move. 

Not moving any other muscle in my body, I used my left hand to slide the shaving kit off the vanity so that it would drop directly on top of Ms. Brown.  I then made the fastest exit, leaping out of the shower area as I heard the snake strike the hollow kit at least three times.  I started to run down the hall bare-ass naked; I cast a quick glance back and the damned snake was chasing me!  I started running full out.

As I passed the kitchen, my hunting mate said, “What’s up?” as if nothing was unusual about me streaking through the hunting lodge. 

“The snake’s chasing me!”  I yelled; he opened the screen door, got a look at Ms. Brown, and responded helpfully by screaming “Oh shit!” and doing a 180exit.  I turned the corner, looked back and saw the snake exiting through a hole.

I wasted no time in getting dressed and getting us out of Kirkimbie station.  A few weeks later, Penfold wrote to me, said that he’d seen Ms. Brown and fed him a mouth full of birdshot.  He measured slightly over 3 meters long.