By Len Backus Reprinted from the LRH forum from 2001
On the 13 hour drive to Wibaux, Montana the gusty wind was commanding legions of tumbleweed out onto the road in front of me as I approached the eastern Montana state line. When I stopped at a rest area the reading on my Kestrel handheld wind meter indicated 22 miles per hour. The tumbleweed soldiers would easily win their skirmish under these conditions. Not the kind of wind a long range hunter dreams of. I was optimistic, though, because the “windcast” on Intellicast.com last night told me this strong wind would be diminishing near Wibaux by the time I took the field tomorrow morning.
I soon arrived at outfitter Tracy Weyer’s Hidden Valley Ranch and checked my rifle at a 100 yard target. Shooting off a makeshift bench, the wind was so strong and buffeting that I had to really concentrate to not allow it to rock me as I pulled the trigger 3 times. I was close enough at 100 yards that I made no changes. However, I waited 2 more hours hoping the wind would diminish some before I had Tracy help me find a place to set up a target at 500 yards. When using my Lasertech brand 2000-yard rangefinder to position the target, I had to lean against his truck to steady myself enough to get an accurate reading in the continuing 20 mile per hour winds.
When I laid down in the prone-bipod position the swirling wind near the ground flung grass bits into my eyes. I was positioned to shoot almost exactly with the prevailing wind direction at the distant target. I fired twice and more grass flew into my eyes from the muzzle blast of the brake. The wind was buffeting my long Swarovski spotting scope so badly that we drove back out to the target to find the first 2 bullet holes. They were high but only 4 inches horizontal and 1 inch vertical in group size. I clicked downward on the target turret and placed my next 2 shots right into the 5-inch square bull, 3 inches wide by 1 inch vertical. Pretty good for the 20 mile per hour wind conditions. “Tracy, be sure you bring Bud Meadows up here next week when he arrives for his hunt to show him my 500 yard group,” I said as we headed back to the ranch house.
Tracy’s ranch house operates its security program with 5 sentinels posted on duty at the front door. Their leader is a 6 year old German shepherd and the other 4 are barn cats -- one of them with no tail. As I approached the door for the evening meal I patted the dog, “Trapper,” and shooed the cats away. Entering the house I said hello to Harriet. Harriet is Tracy’s mom and she cooks during the hunting season. Great job! Seated around the supper table were Tracy; his 2 other guides, brother Terry and Donny, and another hunter named George, from Iowa.
Also present was Joe White, from Tennessee. Joe is a cameraman with “Mossy Oak, Hunting The Country”, the cable TV program. He was going to film for 3 days. I had learned this a couple weeks before I arrived. Knowing there were only 2 of us hunters this week I assumed he might be filming me. That would be quite interesting but it sure would ratchet up the pressure to perform without error.
Joe has an affable personality and a pleasant southern drawl. We traded stories around the table but we all were most interested in his tales. When he was hired by Mossy Oak he was told he might as well sell all his rifles and archery equipment because from now on he would be hunting only with a camera.
Earlier this year, Joe spent two weeks filming the Remington Arms group on safari in Tanzania. I happened to watch one of the two segments a couple of months ago. I felt at home discussing this adventure with him since I had done my own photo safari in Tanzania and Kenya this past June. We traded lists of game bagged -- mine with just a 35 mm camera and his group’s with a video camera -- and the latest Remington rifles. They shot 31 animals. I shot 5,783 animals. Many of mine would qualify for entry into the Roland and Ward trophy book. Joe didn’t know how many of Remington’s would.
Joe and I were each quite successful with leopards. His hunter shot one at a bait stationed in a tree on their first night attempted. He described lying on his back on the ground in a blind with his camera waiting for night to fall, looking up at the silhouetted branches of an African acacia tree. My leopard was shot in an acacia tree, too -- with camera only. My driver got me close enough to shoot a picture that filled the frame with just the leopard’s head through my 600 mm lens.
As the evening around the table wound down, Tracy and Joe discussed plans for the next morning’s hunt. It was now obvious they planned to film George hunting with Tracy as his guide. I was actually relieved. I would feel enough pressure on my own tomorrow. I headed to the bunkhouse and did a final check on my equipment before hitting the sack.
My rifle on this trip was built on a 10 year old Tikka action. Now it has a 30 inch stainless, select match-grade Hart barrel with a 7 twist. It is chambered in 7 mm Dakota by John Geiges and sports a Nightforce NXS, 5.5 to 22 power scope. Attached to the scope is an anti-cant level and an “ Angle Cosine Indicator” to measure the shooting angle up or down hills. It has been averaging about 1/2 moa in still wind conditions. Attached to it is a Harris bipod and I carry a Stoney Point shooting stick in case I needed more height for a seated, downhill position.