The .376 Steyr Scout and 300-grain Handloads in Africa
By Eric S. H. Ching
The Mannlicher Collector #71, 2002
In TMC No. 69 (“Dangerous Game Loads for the .376 Steyr”) I reported on my development of 300-grain handloads for the .376 Steyr with the intention of using them on Cape buffalo. As it turned out, I acquired a Merkel double rifle in .470NE shortly before the trip and, of course, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take my buffalo with it.
I did, however, use the .376 Steyr Scout for everything else. The only difference from the handloads in the article is that I switched bullets. My professional hunter (PH), Schalk van Heerden of Bush Africa Safaris, expressed some reservations about backing me up if I used the Hornadys on buffalo. In looking for another manufacturer who made premium 300-grain soft and solid bullets, Woodleigh naturally came to mind. Despite their traditional construction, they have a reputation for holding together on tough game, and are the bullets of choice for use in many double rifles.
I ended up choosing their 300-grain soft point Protected Point (SPPP). The jacket on the Protected Point extends all the way up the side of the bullet and curls into the small cup at the tip. They were very similar in accuracy and velocity (2300 fps) to the Hornadys with the same charge of 61.4 grains of IMR 4895, and hit to almost the same point of impact, requiring only minor scope adjustments to re-zero with the new bullets. The full-length jacket should also prevent battering of the bullet tips, as happened with the Hornady factory ammo.
In the weeks prior to leaving for Africa, I practiced with the new loads from a standing position, using a sandbag on a camera tripod to simulate firing off of shooting sticks, a technique I expected to use in Africa. I was able to keep my shots in a 1.5″ group at 50 yards while practicing quick acquisition of position on the tripod and shooting as quickly as I felt confident of a good hit. Similarly, on arrival at our first hunting venue we shot at 50 yards to confirm our zeroes. Braced over the hood of the hunting vehicle and shooting as if I were on game, I put two rounds into the center of the black one-inch-square aiming point and a third cutting the edge of the square at 12 o’clock. Plenty good enough! During all of these sessions the recoil of the .376 Steyr Scout with the handloads was completely inconsequential.
I used this combination to take four of my trophy animals (in ascending order of size)Ñbushbuck, nyala, waterbuck, and eland and to put down a kudu that my hunting partner had wounded. Here are the results in chronological order.
Nyala Road Kill
A Nyala is about the size of an average whitetail deer. We hunted them on Zuka Ranch in Zululand and spent the first day observing as many as we could. In what was to become a familiar pattern, my partner shot his Nyala within half an hour of our leaving camp the next morning. Two hours later, as we drove along a straight section of dirt road, Schalk suddenly looked left, braked to a halt, and quietly said, “Take him.” I followed his gaze and saw the Nyala ram in dappled sunlight under the trees about ten degrees behind me and 12 yards off the road. He was facing left and quartered away with his head craned around looking at us.
I took a seated snap shot, hitting it just above the elbow, and it collapsed where it stood. The bullet exited the far side at the base of the neck and left small entrance and exit holes that didn’t bleed. The shot had taken out the arteries at the top of the heart and perforated both lungs, leaving a wound path between two and three inches in diameter, indicating that the bullet had expanded.
Kudu on the Run
When we arrived at the home ranch of Bush Africa Safaris after hunting Nyala in Zululand, Schalk organized a “game viewing drive” for the late afternoon. It was more than that, of course, given that we were to bring our rifles and have our chambers loaded. Schalk announced that if we saw kudu or eland, my partner got first shot, and I was to shoot if we ran across a bushbuck. A half-hour into the run we came across a nice kudu bull, which is about the size of an elk, not 12 yards off the road. My partner didn’t get on him quick enough, so we circled around and he got a second chance, this time at 80 yards. The PHs both heard a solid hit, but when we got out to track we could find only tiny and widely-spaced drops of blood. Unfortunately the setting sun won the race and we had to resume the search in the morning.
My partner and his PH headed out at first light, and Schalk and I followed about half an hour later. As luck would have it, we had driven less than five minutes out of camp when our tracker spotted the kudu under some trees on the left side of the road. Schalk drove past, then turned around and came back slowly, telling me to get ready. I leaned over the lowered windscreen in an improvised sitting position, pointing the rifle across the hood to our right. Sure enough, the kudu was facing us from about 30 yards away. Schalk braked gently to a halt and I got my sights on the kudu’s chest but had to wait a couple of seconds for the truck to stop rocking. In that interval the kudu turned around and started moving straight away.
I took the only shot I had and fired at the base of his tail to anchor him. He tumbled to the ground immediately at the shot. We climbed out of the truck and approached him from behind. He was sitting up and I was prepared to shoot from behind, angling the shot downward into his chest cavity, but Schalk told me to circle around and take him broadside through the chest. At the shot he fell over and died. I had put the bullet through the front lobes of his lungs. The tail shot had bled profusely, but the chest shot left neat entrance and exit holes with almost no bleeding. We recovered the first bullet, which was nicely mushroomed and had retained 77% of its weight despite having punched through the spine.
Waterbuck at Sunset
Both of our PHs considered the waterbuck to be one of the tougher antelope. They are elk-sized, stocky and solidly built, and carry themselves with a regal bearing. Schalk and I had stalked bushbuck all afternoon on First Hope Farm on the Limpopo River without success and came to the edge of a large meadow as the sun dropped behind the trees. Schalk immediately spotted something among the trees and bushes dotting the meadow. He led me in a fast crouched walk at an oblique angle to whatever he’d seen in order to keep us downwind, stopping occasionally to glass it.
Finally he turned to me and said, “There’s an unusually-marked waterbuck behind those three trees close together. Do you want to take it?” Through my binoculars I could see a gray mass behind the trees 150 yards away, but couldn’t make out more details. Then the waterbuck turned around and stepped out to the right of the trees, exposing its head, neck, and shoulders, quartered toward us. I could see that he had very prominent white markings on his muzzle and above his eyes, and a large white patch on his throat. They almost glowed in the dimming light. “I’ve got a shot now,” I told Schalk, “and I’ll take him.”
Schalk was carrying a shooting stick cut from a tree branch with a small “V” at its top. I grabbed the “V” with three fingers and used my index finger and thumb in the shape of an “L” to form a post rest support. The Scout Scope’s heavy reticle wobbled for a few seconds, then steadied on the point of the bull’s shoulder and the shot broke. He reared up and ran off, and we found him down and dead about 80 yards from where he’d been hit. There was no blood trail. As with the Nyala, the entrance hole in its chest just inside the shoulder was small and not bleeding. The bullet perforated the top of the heart and didn’t exit, but instead skidded along the inside of the rib cage on the far side, coming to rest in the abdomen somewhere. We lost it in the gut pile.
The Blind Eland
The eland is the largest antelope in Africa. My hunting partner took one that was over 1900 pounds the day before on another ranch, but mine was more typical at around 1400 pounds, roughly equivalent to a moose in size and weight. The crew had built a blind set back about 65 yards from a feeding spot that’s primarily used to bring animals in close enough for bowhunters. We had been in place for just under an hour when Schalk whispered, “They’re coming,” and pointed over his right shoulder. I could hear the snapping of small branches as the eland approached.
First out of the brush was a cow. She entered the right side of the shooting lane about 50 yards in front of us, angling away to the left, followed by a second cow. The bull was next in line. “That’s him,” Schalk said, “Take him when you can.” Bringing up the rear was a third cow. They milled around in a small clump of trees at the left side of the shooting lane, then gradually made their way to the right side. The bull was obscured by the cows and trees at first, but finally walked clear of them. He was facing right, quartering slightly away. Resting my forearm on a horizontal branch at the front of the blind, I put the crosshairs just above and inside his elbow and fired. The cows scattered at the shot, and the bull reared up and bounded off into the brush.
We waited a couple of minutes to listen for any movement. All was silent, so we walked quietly toward the spot where he’d been hit. When we arrived he was readily visible 20 yards away, lying on his side and already dead. As with the previous animals, the entrance wound was a nice circular hole that had no blood coming out of it. The bullet had passed through the near shoulder and the top of the heart and grazed the shoulder blade on the far side before coming to rest under the skin, retaining fully 96% of its weight.
Bushbuck in the Dark
I was on my fifth day of bushbuck hunting along the Limpopo on First Hope Farm, across the river from the famous Tuli Block of Botswana. We’d tried everything we could think of, from “trolling” along the roads in the hunting truck, to stalking, to posting from the tops of large anthills while the trackers pushed the blocks, to still hunting, to sitting in hunting seats on high tripods, to driving around at night with a spotlight. All we got were a lot of throaty bushbuck barks and rustlings in the thick riverine brush as they made their escapes. That was the situation on our side of the river; on the Botswana side we saw several very nice bushbuck rams and ewes feeding along the banks without a care in the world.
On this day we’d already spent the late morning setting up the tripod seats, driven along the roads in the early afternoon, and sat in the hot sun on the tripod seats in the late afternoon until dark with no results. Schalk had planned a second spotlight hunt for the evening, and if that failed we’d spend the night and be back in the tripod seats at dawn. Until now he’d always gotten a bushbuck here in one day, two at the most, and he was determined to end our streak of bad luck.
My hunting partner was only on his third outing after bushbuck, and five minutes into the spotlight hunt he got his (and potentially a new world record one at that!). After we started hunting again, we saw almost nothing for over 20 minutes and I started to get a sinking feeling that the bushbuck would elude me on this trip. Then Schalk called for the truck to stop and peered into the brush about 80 yards from the road. He glassed, had the truck back up a bit, and glassed some more. He told the driver to turn off the road and drive a little closer to what I presumed was a bushbuck. Next he and his assistant PH got out of the truck with a hand-held spotlight and tried to illuminate it from a different angle. They changed positions two or three times, glassing repeatedly. I was still in the truck and couldn’t see what they were seeing.
Finally, the assistant PH walked back to the truck and gestured for me to follow him. We scurried back to where Schalk was crouched, and he whispered, “There’s a bushbuck ram out there, but I can see only one horn. Do you want to take a risk and shoot him?” We all knew from the landowner that a one-horned ram lived on the property. I looked at the two eyes glowing in the spotlight beam through my scope and could also see one ear above them. Before I could decide, Schalk said, “Follow me,” and crawled forward on his hands and knees. I went after him in a duck walk. The eyes were still there, about 50 yards away.
Schalk glassed again and finally said, “I can see the other horn. Can you shoot him between the eyes?” “I can try,” I said, and got into a kneeling position, using the shooting stick and a post rest grip to support the rifle. I lined up between the eyes and fired. The eyes were still there. I must have shot over his head and between the horns.
I bolt-flicked to reload, but the new cartridge hung up on the feed ramp. I lowered the rifle from my shoulder, slammed on the bolt handle to eject the cartridge, and chambered a new round. Amazingly, when I got back in shooting position, the bushbuck was still there, though I could see only one eye now. Suddenly two eyes appeared, then only one eye, then two eyes again. I could now get an impression of the neck below them, so I centered the vertical crosshair between the eyes and held the horizontal one below them on the neck and pressed off the shot.
“You got him!” said Schalk, and we jogged quickly over to it. We found the bushbuck lying down where it had been hit. The bullet had entered and exited just right of the mid-line of its neck, breaking its spine and dropping it in its tracks.
Twelve yards to 150 yards. Snap shots to deliberate braced shots. Standing, kneeling, and sitting positions. Offhand, shooting stick support, and improvised rests. Stalking, posting, tracking, and sitting in a blind and on a tripod seat. In all of these situations the .376 Steyr Scout and my 300-grain Woodleigh SPPP handloads at 2300 fps proved to be a handy, easily managed, and deadly combination in the African bushveld. Two animals dropped to the shot, and none of the others got farther than 80 yards. Penetration was adequate with pass-through’s on the smaller animals, and on the larger ones the bullet always got into the vitals. While the wound channels weren’t large, they were sufficient to bring the animal down quickly.
I had our PHs and others who owned and regularly used .375 H&H rifles try the .376 Steyr Scout. All agreed and were pleasantly surprised that recoil from the eight-pound Scout was significantly less than from their longer and heavier rifles.
The one caution I have about this particular bullet and load is that the entrance and exit wounds were small and didn’t leave a blood trail. If you place your shot properly you will certainly kill the animal, but if it doesn’t go down right away, you may have an interesting tracking job ahead of you.
My hunting partner’s experience with his .375 H&H pre-64 Winchester Model 70, loaded with 260-grain Nosler Partitions at 2600 feet per second, confirmed my hypothesis that Hornady factory loads for the .376 Steyr are less than optimal for African plains game. He socked a very large eland on the shoulder with that load from 40 yards away. The bullet broke the upper leg bone but disintegrated in the process. After a 50-yard chase he put a round into the other shoulder with identical results. Neither shot made it out of the eland’s shoulder and into the vitals; they didn’t even reach the exterior chest wall. Luckily the eland is so heavy that it cannot run with broken legs, so my partner could take carefully placed finishing shots up close.
Now, consider that the heaviest .376 Steyr factory load is a 270-grain Interlock BTSP spitzer at 2550 fps, for all intents and purposes identical to my hunting partners load. I think it’s reasonable to conclude that on the heavier, tougher plains game like eland, zebra, waterbuck, and wildebeest, not to mention dangerous game, there’s a significant chance of bullet failure and inadequate penetration. (We won’t even talk about the factory “deer load” of 225 grains at the same velocity; why would a hunter buy a .376 Steyr Scout or Pro-Hunter to hunt deer when there are so many other suitable rifles and cartridges for that task?)
In my opinion, the hunter who is attracted to this rifle and cartridge combination is looking for near-.375 H&H killing power in a lighter, more compact package with lower recoil than is available with traditional .375 H&H rifles and loads. And the intended targets are large and possibly dangerous game.
The proven solution in this caliber for such game is the 300-grain bullet. What the .376 Steyr needs to fulfill its potential, therefore, is a load with a tough 300-grain bullet at between 2300 and 2400 feet per second. As my friend, hunting consultant Jim Dodd, is fond of saying, the .376 Steyr is the modern equivalent of the mild-mannered yet deadly 9.3×62, but one that can take advantage of the excellent, numerous, and more widely available .375″ bullets.
We already have the rifles (sort of, depending on what Steyr does in the future). All that’s missing is the proper load to make them really shine.