January 12, 2024
When you borrow a camp rifle, it’s like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates: You never know what you’re going to get. These days, with decreasing baggage allowances, increasing charges and more hassle, many folks choose to beg, borrow or rent rifles at distant destinations.
This does not apply only to hunters traveling to far places. Shooting schools are a big business, and many students rent rifles on site. Travel is simpler, and the learning value is equal—except for added experience with Old Betsy.
Also like Forrest Gump’s chocolates, when you don’t bring your own rifle, what you get is a surprise, but it’s usually a good surprise. Most shooting schools have a selection of excellent rifles, and many are allied with a gunmaker. Obviously, there’s a hope that you’ll like the loaner well enough to buy it or go home and order one.
Camp rifles are more of a mixed bag. Never fancy, they’re often well-used, but you can expect that an outfitter’s loaner will be suitable for the conditions.
We have loaners on my place in Kansas, but I’m probably not going to hand you my .25-35. Instead, I’ll probably offer you a bolt-action in .270 or .308. Or it might be an AR in 6.5 Grendel. Our Canadian visitors especially like to use ARs because they don’t have them at home.
Elsewhere, it depends on circumstances and local availability. No matter where you go, don’t expect an outfitter to hand you a Rigby. In North America, you’ll probably be offered a basic domestic bolt action. Overseas, the selection changes. In New Zealand and several African countries, I’ve seen multiple camp rifles from Sako and Tikka, and well-used CZs are worldwide standbys.
Perhaps the “best”—certainly the costliest—loaners I’ve ever been offered were Blasers. I wouldn’t exactly call these camp rifles. Technically, they were the outfitters’ personal rifles, generously loaned in Australia, Mexico, Mozambique and Spain.
I’m a Blaser fan, so you’d think this gladdened the cockles of my little heart. Not altogether. I’m left-handed. A right-hand straight-pull action is even more right-handed than a turnbolt. As lefties, if my wife, Donna, or I don’t bring our own rifles, we don’t expect to be handed mirror-image rifles. We make do with right-hand guns.
I am not advocating for or against traveling with firearms. Generally, it’s a personal choice. Deal with the hassle and take your own—or don’t and accept that the firearm offered for your use will almost certainly be suitable and serviceable. But it is unlikely to meet your idea of perfection.
As serious rifle shooters—and readers of this specialized magazine—most of us would probably prefer to ponder endlessly the perfect rifle, sight and load for a given hunt. Then we spend much range time practicing, deal with the hassle and bring a favorite and familiar rifle.
Problem is, there are great hunting destinations where it’s impossible to bring firearms. If you want to hunt there, you have no choice but to use whatever is available. Good examples in my experience were Liberia, Congo Republic and Peru. No matter how much red tape you’re willing to cut, you aren’t bringing your own rifle.
I wanted the experience of hunting these places, so I accepted what was offered. Like the box of chocolates, all three were tasty surprises.
Hunting in Liberia is mostly small forest antelopes with shotguns, but just in case an opportunity came along for a buffalo, giant forest hog or red river hog, they had a Winchester Model 70 Super Grade in .458 and a Ruger No. 1 in .375 H&H.
In Congo, the two primary animals are bongo and buffalo, but ill-tempered forest elephants a potential hazard, so you should carry a big rifle. Congo Forest Safaris had two Ruger Model 77 Hawkeye rifles in .375 Ruger. Both were stainless and synthetic. One had a low-power scope, the other an Aimpoint, and I can’t imagine much better options for the forest’s tough conditions and close shooting.
Hunting tropical whitetails in Peru, outfitter Marcelo Sodiro had a scoped Winchester Model 70 Featherweight of recent vintage for me to use, chambered in .270. That’s never a bad choice for any deer hunting.
An operator in a country that has legal hunting but doesn’t allow visitors to import firearms should have suitable firearms for the customers. Just makes business sense, right? Even in countries where firearms importation is simple, it’s an increasing trend that many folks choose not to travel with them. I’m seeing outfitters in various places investing in firearms, just to answer that need.
Last year I was part of a group of seven hunters at John X Safaris in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. Few places are easier than South Africa for firearms importation. Even so, only three of us brought rifles. The other four chose to use camp guns. These were dialed-in Gunwerks rifles, all in 7mm Long Range Magnum (LRM), all with South African suppressors. Pretty amazing for camp guns, and they yielded equally amazing results.
By the way, both rifles and ammunition are much costlier overseas. If you choose not to bring your own, expect to pay a rental fee and pay for ammunition.
Usually, I still bring my own rifles when I can. It depends on the situation. I can’t imagine going on a mountain hunt without a rifle I’ve spent lots of range time with. But sometimes I reach into the box of chocolates.
Like right now. I’m in South Africa, and I’m not going straight home, so it’s just too complex to bring my own rifle this time. Instead, I brought a scope, a new NightForce NX8 2.5-20x50mm, set in rings. I just asked for something suitable I could use that had a rail mount.
This is not the course of action I recommend. If you choose not to bring a rifle, especially some place where you technically can, then it’s dumb not to find out what will be available for you to use. I didn’t because in South Africa I’m hunting with Frontier Safaris, and I have been with them several times. Whatever I reached for in their box of chocolates would be right-handed, but otherwise tasty.
As expected, it was a fine piece of candy, an almost-new Remington Model 700 Sendero in 7mm Rem. Mag. I went straight to their range, popped the scope on the rail, established zero before dark with just a few shots. The first mornin, I dumped a kudu bull at 380 yards. This time, I made a good grab into the box of chocolates.