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Murray's African safari experience was one even Hemingway might envy

January 28th, 2007 12:33 am by George Thwaites

Kingsport's Tom Murray poses with one of the two Eastern Cape kudu he brought down during his safari trip to South Africa. Murray took both animals with a single-shot handgun. Contributed photo.


Ever since writing "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber," author Ernest Hemingway invariably has been associated with the hunting of dangerous African game like Cape buffalo.

In life, however, Hemingway the hunter was equally obsessed with graceful African Plains game. The author's dogged pursuit of a kudu - an elusive, elk-sized antelope with majestic spiraling horns - figures prominently in his non-fiction book "Green Hills of Africa."

During a safari in South Africa last summer, Tom Murray accomplished a feat that would probably have made the ultra-competitive Hemingway green with envy. Not only did Murray bag two magnificent Eastern Cape kudu, he took both animals with a single-shot handgun.

"Kudu like to stay in real thick brush. The way you spot them is you see those big high horns sticking out of the brush. You just have to stalk until you find an opening where you can get a shot," Murray said.

After finding that opening, the shot isn't close by handgun standards. His first kudu, which scored 104 (book minimum is something like a 98), was taken at 150 yards. His second kudu, which scored 1183/8, ranked second in the Safari Club International (SCI) book by the time Murray returned to Kingsport. That animal was harvested at 204 yards.

During his six-day safari, Murray also took a gemsbuck at 150 yards, a bushbuck at 122 yards, a blesbuck at 80 yards, an impala at 150 yards and a duiker at 100-plus yards. The gemsbuck and blesbuck also made the SCI record books.

The safari, most of which took place about an hour and a half from Port Elizabeth, was the first for the 60-year-old Murray. The Holston Defense retiree has hunted a diverse range of animals in the Lower 48. But he had always dreamed of hunting in Africa.

His dream became a reality after friend Paul Key, a veteran African hunter, invited Murray to accompany him on safari.

Key was invaluable in helping Murray prepare for his trip, including tips on dealing with all the regulatory red tape. Interestingly enough, the paperwork for transporting a handgun into South Africa wasn't significantly different from what was required to transport a rifle into the country.

The biggest revelation for Murray was the strenuous nature of the hunting itself. Even he had mistakenly believed a safari involved riding around in a vehicle until you spotted the animal you wanted.

"It's not like that. The animals over there are every bit as wild and hard to hunt as the animals are here. It's just that there are more of them. If you mess up a stalk, you might walk another half-mile and see another animal," Murray said. "Here, you may get one chance at a big deer in your lifetime. There, if you mess up a stalk, you may get multiple chances. But you don't get multiple chances at a kudu like I shot. They're pretty elusive."

While Murray's brace of kudu were enviable trophies, he is equally proud of his gemsbuck. These big-bodied animals favor wide-open terrain. They are every bit as skittish as American pronghorn antelope.

"Gemsbuck have super eyesight. We had a hard time getting close enough for a handgun. They look up and see you and take off on a full run. No waiting around. We had to do some hard stalking to get the shot," he said.

Murray, who shot IHMSA handgun silhouette competitively for 22 years, started handgun hunting when he realized that both his equipment and skills were up to the task.

"I pretty much go with the single shot. Revolvers are fine, but they just don't have the accuracy I like for longer range shooting," said Murray, whose first hunting handgun was a Thompson /Center Contender.

He still keeps a Contender in his hunting battery, but the pistol Murray took to Africa is a scoped, custom barreled Thompson Center Encore chambered in .308 Win.

"The .308 is pretty stout but my gun is heavy ... it has a big, fat barrel that has been fluted. If it wasn't as heavy as it was, it would be uncomfortable to shoot," Murray said.

In Africa, Murray took all his standing shots at game with the aid of shooting sticks. An unsupported offhand shot might have been possible at 25 to 50 yards, he said. But it wouldn't have been ethical to try that at longer ranges, he said.

"I just don't think it's fair to an animal to just throw it up there and shoot and hope to hit it somewhere. It's not sporting and it's not humane," he said.

With eight head of game in the salt, Murray said he has experienced only the "tip of the iceberg" offered by African hunting and looks forward to returning someday.

There were no dangerous game in the area Murray hunted except for elephants, which were protected and given a wide berth.

He has no illusions about being able to afford a classic "Big Five" safari - lion, elephant, rhinoceros, buffalo and leopard - but there is one of these animals he'd like to pursue.

Hemingway would approve.

"The next thing I'd like to hunt is Cape buffalo, but I don't know if I'd want to tackle Cape buffalo with a handgun," Murray said.

"I know there have been buffalo killed with a handgun, but a lot of professional hunters won't take you buffalo hunting with a handgun. Too much is at stake. For instance, your life."

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