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The Majestic Tahr – Kilimanjaro’s 2012 Field Tests

Rifle Testing Cattle Flats New Zealand

Each year, Kilimanjaro puts its rifles to the test in the field in our continuing efforts to craft not merely beautiful rifles, but rifles tough and durable enough to handle the most extreme conditions. In 2010, it was twenty-eight days in Africa and the dust & ash after burning of the long grass in the Selous. In 2011, it was the extreme wet conditions of the Alaskan Peninsula in the Fall in pursuit of monster Brown Bear. For 2012, we headed to New Zealand’s South Island to tackle the extreme mountain and glacier conditions of the Southern Alps.

Our Master Gunsmith, Gene Gordner, headed out with Gus Bisset of New Zealand Trophy Hunting for field testing of the Kilimanjaro Jaeger 10-Bore Historical Rifle. They set out to break the world record for free-range Red Stag taken with a muzzle loading rifle. They came close… but the magnificent Stag which Gene took with one shot places 2d in the SCI record books (Correction: The official measurement is in and Gene’s Stag is No. 1 at 319 4/8, easily eclipsing the prior record holder of 308!). Full video of this remarkable hunt can be seen in the video link on You Tube). If you want to understand what hunting in an earlier era is like, this is a must see.

new zealand kilimanjaro rifle testing

My son William and I headed out instead with Stu Marr, Ben Smith and John Totty of
New Zealand Safaris. We were delighted that Diana Rupp, Editor In Chief of Sports Afield magazine, was also able to join us. Diana was testing our new Artemis-Tigercat Rifle in 30-06 for an upcoming article. William picked our lightweight Leopard rifle in 6.5×55 Swede with a stunning Quilted Maple stock. I carried the full size Kilimanjaro African rifle in 7mm Rem. Mag. which is Stu’s recommended cartridge for the distances and the toughness of the Tahr. William’s 6.5×55 Swede, and Diana’s 30-06, also both performed exceptionally well (and were considerably lighter to carry).

William and Stu

We were tackling the steep mountains in pursuit of the high-climbing Tahr, Chamois and Arapawa Ram. We did it the hard way, completely on foot, starting at the lowest elevation and ascending 2,500 to 3,500 vertical feet each day, and then descending (the hardest part) into the evening. The climbing was difficult, not just because of the ice and snow at the higher elevations, but due to the loose shale covering so much of the mountain sides. You could never be sure of your footing. My son and the younger guides just danced over it with the energy and quick reflexes of youth. For my older legs, and slower reflexes when footing gave way, each step required careful consideration.

Erik Eike descending Lochaber

Bull Tahr, with their magnificent blonde mane against the dark fur of the body, has long been on my wish list, and I eagerly awaited this hunt. After arriving, and being confronted with the reality of the New Zealand Southern Alps, I didn’t think I could do it. I did, however, and am quite proud of myself. With a week of this type of climbing, my legs haven’t been this strong since I was 20 years old. My success is in large part due to what we jokingly called guide Stu Marr’s studied lack of candor in projecting how much farther we had to go. I quickly learned that Stu’s favorite phrases like “we will just pop up there”, or its just over that out-cropping, translated into two or more hours of fiery agony in the thighs, only to learn that now we needed to “pop up” someplace higher, and again, and again. By the end of the hunt, one truism emerged: “There is always more mountain to climb.” Stu, however, knew from experience what it takes to motivate and encourage hunters like me facing a greater than expected challenge, and my thanks go out to him.

Erik and John

Erik's first tahr trophy shot

We also were accompanied by professional photographer and painter Craig Smith. Aside from his talented photography, and ability to create original oil paintings of scenes from the hunt, Craig was just a great hunting companion with contagious good cheer and optimism. If you head down to New Zealand to hunt, we heartily recommend Craig’s services to create a beautiful and professional visual record of your hunt. Be forewarned, however; he turned my son into an avid New Zealand rugby fan, and “All Blacks” (the NZ national team) supporter.

The key to a good hunt is always the outfitter/guide escorting you, and New Zealand Safaris (Stu, Ben and John) are about the best we have seen. With hunting areas all over the South Island for all of New Zealand’s available game, they have the ability to choose the best location for your desired hunt. They displayed keen knowledge not only of the game and its habits, but of all the different terrains in which we hunted. Like Craig, they are enjoyable hunting companions: friendly, personable, and fun to be with.

Between William, Diana and myself, we successfully took five Tahr, 2 Chamois and 3 Arapawa Rams. More of the trophy photos can be seen on our Gallery page. With the 30-06 Artemis-Tigercat rifle, Diana took a magnificent Bull Tahr and superb Arapawa Ram, both with one shot. William took two Tahr, two Rams and the largest, most impressive Chamois I have ever seen with the Leopard 6.5×55 Swede. His shooting continues to excel. My own shooting was off to a less than impressive start. While I successfully took both my first Tahr and Chamois, it took three shots on each to get on target. We had just sighted in the scopes the night before the hunt, so I was perplexed. After that shooting performance, I sighted in again, and the scope was way off. Somewhere during the climb, it had been knocked out of alignment.

Diana's Tahr trophy photo

Erik with Chamois

My second Tahr was taken with one shot from a free-handed sitting position, shooting up slope, into the setting sun at 220 yards. With the sun behind him, and standing on the ridge line, this Bull Tahr was visible only as a black silhouette, impossible to judge quality of the mane. He had, however, amassed and kept close the largest group of nannies (female Tahr) of any Tahr we had seen on the mountains. I figured this was the dominant Bull on the mountain, and I was right. He was glorious. Because I will not take skyline shots for safety reasons, I had to wait patiently with the cross-hairs on him until he finally stepped down with his shoulder below the ridge line, and I squeezed the trigger. It was a good hit, and he took off just over a nearby outcropping where we found him. At this point, it was last light and trophy photos were taken in the twilight. We were all the way at the top of this mountain, and it was a long descent in the dark with the headlamps. As treacherous as the footing is in daylight, navigating down in darkness with only a small circle of illumination in front of you is an entirely different experience. The beer, left in the truck to cool naturally in the below freezing temperatures, never tasted so good.

This was a tough hunt, but don’t let that deter you. The beauty and stunning vistas of the South Island of New Zealand are beyond compare. Despite the difficult climbs, I found the majestic Tahr to be every bit as addictive as Cape Buffalo, and I am already planning the next hunt.

— Erik D. Eike

William's Second Tahr


Kilimanjaro presented with Sporting Classics Award

Noted writer Ron Spomer presents Kilimanjaro Rifles with Sporting Classics Award of Excellence

We are finally back to our work benches and back to work after the 2012 show season. The shows are quite exhausting but such great fun to be able to talk with and show off our rifles to so many people. We expanded to three full booth spaces this year at both the Dallas Safari Club show and the SCI convention in Las Vegas with 28 custom rifles on display to be held and handled, and were still crowded. Interest was higher than ever, and we did a record number of personal fittings.

The two shows combined only run a total of eight days for those visiting, but for us, it is a total of 25 days of packing, travel, set-up, show days, break-down, more travel, another set-up, more show days, another break-down, and finally the return trip back to Montana. Since the freight quotes came in higher than ever, we once again packed a half million dollars of rifles and 7,000 pounds of booth and gear into our trailer and headed south from Montana. This year, however, our regular driver was unavailable and it fell to me to haul this load on the 4,800 mile round trip. Crossing the continental divide six different times during the middle of winter with our truck and trailer is an interesting and sometimes challenging experience. I confess I loved it. It has been almost thirty years since I last had the chance to drive cross-country. You really cannot even begin to appreciate the grandeur and beauty of this great country without driving thousands of miles across it.

The highlight of the shows for us was the presentation by Sporting Classics magazine of their Award Of Excellence for 2011. Noted writer Ron Spomer made the presentation on behalf of Sporting Classics to the Kilimanjaro team in Las Vegas, and the crystal trophy was proudly displayed on the front table in our booth. Dr. Kevin “Doctari” Robertson was once again able to join us in our booth in both Dallas and Las Vegas to demonstrate our Doctari Rifle which he designed. This year, customers were able to meet and talk with not only me, Dr. Robertson and Master Gunsmith Gene Gordner, but also Principal Gunsmith Noah Hathorne.

custom rifle show 2012

las vegas rifle show

We were quite apprehensive about the new location for the SCI convention in Las Vegas, but the logistics went very well. While I am sure many attendees enjoyed the Las Vegas environment, we still prefer Reno. The show was larger than ever in Las Vegas, but the casino megaplex just seemed to swallow and disperse everyone as soon they left the show floor. In Reno, it is hunting, guns, friends and colleagues morning, noon and night—and that’s what makes it so much more fun. SCI will be back to Reno next year, and we are looking forward to it.

The Dallas Safari Club continues to amaze with their superb hospitality. The 100% commitment of virtually every club member to the success of the show is a joy to behold. Our thanks go out to them. This commitment has seen the Dallas show grow at an incredible rate to the point where I am no longer sure which is bigger, the DSC show or the SCI show. DSC reports there were 38,000 attendees this year in Dallas. One of our favorite parts of the Dallas show are the Exhibitor breakfasts sponsored by Sports Afield magazine. Held every morning in a relaxed setting before the hustle and bustle of the show day begins, these breakfasts continue to provide the very best opportunity for us to meet and share notes with others in the industry, establish new working relationships, and launch more joint projects and endeavors.

We wish the primary purpose of the shows was for all of you to buy new custom rifles, but booking of hunts is still paramount as it should be. We were at it ourselves. We have now made arrangements for our 2012 Field Tests, and this year, we will put our rifles to the test in the high alpine environment of the South Island of New Zealand. My son William and I accepted an invitation for a “Southern Slam” hunt for Tahr, Chamois and Sheep with Stu Marr of New Zealand Safaris. Meanwhile, Master Gunsmith Gene Gordner is also heading out into the New Zealand mountains with Gus Bisset of New Zealand Trophy Hunting with the very modest objective of bagging the World Record Red Stag taken with a flintlock firearm. Gene will be testing one of our new Historical Rifles-a new firearm crafted from scratch to a historical design. He still needs to finish building the rifle for the hunt. Now Gene complains loudly each year about the cramped conditions on the short plane flight from Kalispell to Dallas and Las Vegas. I can hardly wait to hear his reaction to the more than 25 hours of airline travel it will take to get him to New Zealand, but at present he is as excited as a child on Christmas Eve.

Kilimanjaro Rifles

Kilimanjaro’s 2010 African Field Tests:

Twenty-Seven Days Of Flawless Performance In The Harsh Conditions Of The African Bush.

Kilimanjaro Rifles field testing

For five weeks, and a full 27 days of hunting, including 21 days in the Selous Reserve of Tanzania, Kilimanjaro Rifles recently subjected its rifles to the most strenuous field testing in the harshest African conditions. Many hunters are wary of subjecting rifles as beautiful as Kilimanjaro’s to the rough conditions of the field, but that is what we create and craft them to handle.  From the strength and stability of our Stealth Lamination of fine Turkish Walnut for the stock, the beauty but toughness of our twenty step “Museum Grade” wood finish, to the even tougher but elegant non-glare finish of our ceramic metal coating, every aspect of a Kilimanjaro rifle is designed and crafted to handle and excel in the roughest of field conditions. As important, we design and craft them to look good (and to stay looking good) while doing so. At Kilimanjaro, we demand tight tolerances for accuracy and smooth operation without slop or play. At the same time, however, our actions must be designed and honed to handle and continue operating flawlessly in the grit, dust, dirt, ash and mud to which they will be subjected in the field. This is a delicate balance, and one we put to the test in the field.

Rifle field testing in Africs

This year, it was to South Africa and Tanzania, the home of our namesake mountain, for the testing. During a week in South Africa, we were able to test the prototypes of our new Kilimanjaro Doctari Professional Hunter Rifle with its designer, Dr. Kevin Robertson. We also subjected our other Kilimanjaro rifles to the dust, thorns, brush and rocks of the South African veld. In Tanzania, the rifles were subjected to more than three weeks of the ash and carbon residue from the burning of the long grass, as well as the dust, dirt and mud of the Selous, while enduring daily long stalks through thick Miombo and Acacia forest bush. Add twenty-seven days of bouncing in the gun-racks in the Land Cruisers, more than 30,000 air miles on planes big and tiny, 18 different occasions with airline baggage handlers, and we put the rifles to the test.

Without cleaning or maintenance of any kind (not even wipe downs in camp), the rifles functioned flawlessly and smoothly for the full duration of the hunt, and finished looking every bit as beautiful and unblemished as they started. They took 16 of 19 trophies with clean, quick one-shot kills, including African Lion, East African Leopard, Hippo, multiple Cape Buffalo, Eland, Masai Bushbuck, Nyala, Kudu, Waterbuck, Common Reedbuck, Warthog, Blue Wildebeest, Gemsbok, multiple Lichtenstein Hartebeest, Impala and Egyptian Goose (a nice free-hand head shot with a 416 Rem., but that is a long story). The first shots on the remaining three would have done the trick, but prudence demanded a follow-up shot on a very tough Gemsbok, a Cape Buffalo, and an Impala. Despite several exciting stalks at close quarters for Elephant, we unfortunately did not find a suitable bull to round out the remainder of the Big 5 on this hunt. Add three different close-quarter encounters with Black Mamba, lions in camp (five on one night alone causing pure pandemonium with the safari staff), as well as elephants and leopards in camp on other nights, and we had a fine African safari experience in the old-style tradition of Roosevelt, Hemingway and Ruark.

As a result of our field testing of currently available scope mounts for Sako 85 dovetailed receivers, Kilimanjaro is now in design and production of our own sturdier and rock-solid scope mounts for these actions. We hope to introduce these along with the new Doctari sights, and the Doctari Professional Hunter Rifle, at the SCI and Dallas Safari Club shows in January 2011. Dr. Robertson will also be joining us at the SCI show in Reno for the debut of the Doctari Rifle which he designed. We will have more than twenty other examples of the finest full-custom hunting rifles on display. We hope to see you at the shows.

Leopard taken with one shot with a Kilimanjaro African 375H&H Rifle

Field testing of this sort also allows us to talk with and gain insight from the most experienced of the African Professional Hunters. Their comments, suggestions, likes and dislikes, are all valuable to us as we move forward crafting the best hunting rifles in the industry. Their combined experience with various cartridges and bullets also helps us in advising our customers during the design and development of their own unique rifles. Kilimanjaro extends its appreciation to Professional Hunters Rob Klemp and Dylan Corns of Siyabonga Safaris in South Africa, Professional Hunter Terry Calavrias of Zuka Safaris of Tanzania, and Dr. Kevin Robertson for their invaluable assistance and advice during our field test hunts, and to Zuka’s Ryan Wienand and Peter Daffner of PD Safaris for their insights and advice over far too many drinks in the Sea Cliff bar in Dar Es Salaam. Thanks also to Annelise of the Afton Guest House in Johannesburg for the exceptional hospitality so many of us African hunters depend upon in route to our safaris.

If you have not hunted Africa, you need to do so. Contact us.  Not only can we provide you with an exceptional rifle for your hunt, we can assist in placing you with the finest outfitters and professional hunters for your own ultimate African safari experience, be it a more modest plains game hunt or an old-style full-bag safari.

Cape Buffalo taken with one shot in the Tanzanian Selous with a Kilimanjaro African 416 Rem. rifle