Updated: Jun 15
"During colonial times game in South Africa belonged to "The Crown" and therefore was a competitor for the available feed on a landowner's property, grazing and browsing in competition with domestic cattle and sheep".
That situation simply was not good ranching economics and exacerbated by the fact that the distant owner of the game - the Queen of England - refused to pay grazing rights to the landowners. This caused game populations to dwindle until many species were facing extinction as no landowner wanted things that did not belong to him overgrazing his land. (More about this bit of history and the outcome of that is expanded on after the rifle photos).
First things first:
Because hunting is not a sport there is no such thing as a "sporterised" hunting rifle - unless the original design had been changed for, or is a new design for dedicated target sport shooting. Target competition shooting is a sport, using dedicated rifles and sights. There is no competition in hunting which is but one of many reasons why it is not a sport. South Africans hunt for the meat. The trophy hunting by foreign visitors also leave a supply of meat which is utilised mostly by families in need of subsistence assistance.
There is no sport in hunting - it is our culture to hunt and find and kill and prepare good quality meat all by yourself instead of eating meat that had been killed at an abbatoir and prepared by someone else. Hunting and preparing it develops respect for the animal and where is comes from. Steak or sausage at the food shop is not some light pink coloured substance that was synthetically manufactured in a cold factory: it once was a living animal - just as fish and bread and broccoli once were living entities in Creation.
Owning firearms equally is an embedded part of my people's culture. It historically was (and still may be equally valid as) a means of self protection, as well as a means to get meat from the abundance of the land.
The artistic culture of South African hunting rifles - blending engineering and design aesthetics:
Sabi custom .404 Jeffery
Musgrave custom 8x68 S on a Mauser K98 action
Voere .375 H&H (Wir dürfen den Deutchen VOERE GmbH präsentieren)
CZ 550 7x57
Ruger M77 African .416 Ruger (a respected American Mauser)
Two 48 year old Musgraves: a 30-06 at the top and a .308W below
Custom built 9,3x62 on a Mauser 98 action and Musgrave barrel
Winchester model 1895 .45-70 (the true American culture rifle)
There indeed is competition sport shooting dedicated to hunting rifles: the "Hunting Rifle Shooting Competition" - a unique sport in South Africa which also is the shooting sport with the greatest number of attendents anywhere in the world. Here is a link to more information about that very demanding sport which was started many years ago as a fun part of educating young hunters in the ethics of hunting.
Dedicated sporting rifles elsewhere in the world look like this and some people even "hunt" with them:
Ruger Precision Rifle
Precision. sport. shooting. adjustable. wrench. in pink
Savage 10 BA "Stealth"
Modern American Gun Culture: Savage 110 Elite Precision Adjustable Farming Equipment
So again, hunting is not a sport in South Africa
After South Africa's unilateral declaration of independence from England in 1961 the ownership of game was taken away from the Queen of England and even from the SA government, and since then it belongs to the owner of the land on whose property it resides at any one moment.
During the colonial times game belonged to "The Crown" and therefore was a competitor for food on a landowner's property, grazing and browsing with domestic cattle and sheep. Game populations kept on dwindling until many species were facing extinction as no landowner wanted things that did not belong to him overgrazing his land. It simply was not good ranching economics, exacerbated by the fact that the distant owner of the game - the Queen of England - refused to pay grazing rights to the landowners.
Cattle and sheep are very selective feeders so many species of nutritional grasses were grazed to extinction and scrub brush encroached the land and the natural habitat was being decimated. Before the mass introduction of commercial cattle and sheep there was a balanced existence of more than 22,000 species of grasses and brush and trees in abundance, and wild game was in abundance.
While South Africa is smaller than 0.8% of the world land surface it hosts more than 10% of all the plant species that exist in the whole world - and cattle and sheep and goats were creating the extinction of a great number of these. Not by eating it all, but by eating selective groups to extinction. This caused proliferation and encroachment of ancient pioneer species which killed the balanced habitat.
In 1961 after becoming an independent Republic the government and ranch owners came to agree on a new concept of macro nature (total habitat) conservation - meaning that the habitat needs to be conserved and that the macro focus should not be on protecting individual species of animals. A pristine habitat means that all species will naturally thrive. In essence this became the very basis for the hunting industry and the reason the country has so much wildlife. South Africa's wildife habitat is now what is was 250 years ago. Domesticated agriculture has progressed to high yield intensive farming in dedicated areas and the wilderness areas have done away with cattle and sheep. Why?
One head of cattle typically needs 30 acres grazing to not overgraze the land - but in the natural South African habitat where there are no cattle or sheep that very same 30 acres can sustain one blue wildebeest plus one zebra plus one kudu plus one hartebeest plus three impala plus four mountain reedbuck plus three bushbuck plus five steenbok plus five warthog. Every 50 acres can sustain one eland plus one giraffe plus two nyala plus one sable plus one roan as none of the species mentioned above compete for the same food. But that can only work for the landowner if these utilisers of the food have a commercial value.
The one thing property owners fear more than drought is overgrazing. Because of the scientifically planned under-utilisation of the prime habitat that is available to be eaten, the offspring of those numbers of game is high, so the threat of overgrazing within two seasons is real. Similar to exact numbers of domestic animals taken off the land after every season's production to prevent overgrazing, so the same principle applies with wild game. What hunting has done and is doing is give wildlife a commercial value either as a tourist attraction and / or as meat by removing the excess species and numbers - even gender - to prevent overgrazing and maintain the proper ratios between species and gender.
The landscape in the past 50 years' time has returned to what South Africa looked like 250 years ago - both in nature's appearance and numbers of game. The habitat has recovered to the wilderness what my forbears experienced when they packed their wagons in the Eastern Cape and trekked north to get away from the British. And like during those times when many people lived off the land's ability to be utilised for protein, modern South Africans now pay landowners to go and hunt their own meat and process it themselves.
Even though hunting is a widely engaged in activity by meat hunters it still is not sufficient to remove the required numbers of game off the habitat to prevent overgrazing. A whole sub industry has evolved where highly specialised teams of expert marksmen with mobile butcheries and refrigerator trucks are contracted by landowners after the hunting season to hunt and remove precise numbers of each specie and of both sexes, being selected on age, appearance and killed with precision brain shots.
This is hard work - far harder than normal walk and stalk hunting. Tracking and finding animals, glassing without being seen, precise brain shots out to 300 yards and more, retrieving the carcasses without too much disturbance of nature and doing the first order butchering in the veld. The predators then have sufficient food as well while the carcasses are prepared in approved abbatoirs that most ranches are equipped with.
The demand is by European and eastern American cities for South Africa's very high quality game meat unaffected by man-made feeds. The hygiene regulations are very strict and there are qualified veterinarians that have oversight of every process and action. Even though the meat is for commercial use the hunting is still hard on foot walking, finding and stalking.
In the Big 5 areas where there are large predators that control the ungulate numbers there is no "cull hunting" (but to be exact - every single animal hunted in order to reduce numbers in effect is a "cull"). In these areas a big cartridge like the .416 Rigby shown here is necessary to be carried by the guide or PH for obvious reasons :
.416 Rigby cartridges in dangerous game areas - the predator fangs to kill and eat - or prevent the bearer from being killed and eaten.
So, the large predators where they occur control ungulate numbers, and hunting does that where these do not occur. There are two animals that are not killed by predators, namely rhino and elephant. Despite the Chinese-driven illegal poaching of rhino, South Africa has about 25,000 white rhino on private land as well as in the wildlife reservations. But elephant is a problem. A very big problem.
Their numbers are threatening once pristine forests in South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe. South Africa has at least 10,000 elephant more than the habitat can sustain, Botswana about 20,000 too many and Zimbabwe - in the Zambesi valley alone about 16,000 too many. Once elephant are more than a certain number per square kilometer they turn their own pristine habitat into dust bowls.
Before the S.A. government was handed over to the ANC majority political party in 1994, Kruger National Park in the east of the country had for years culled on average 1,300 elephant every year. Every single kilogram of these was processed into useful products - only the ivory was stored in warehouses - tons and tons of the stuff. A huge meat processing and canning facility was in operation and supplied excellent protein at a very cheap price to communities in need. Elephant meat is like beef. The final object - to maintain the African pristine wildlife habitat was perfectly achieved. That has all changed - and this is the subject of a following blog post.