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Opinion: Are animals in Africa tougher than other places in the world?

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Are the indigenous animals of Africa tougher than the animals of other continents? Or, can the game animals of Africa carry more lead when wounded than other game?

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This question is often debated, and an amazing number of authorities discuss this topic with an attitude of certainty. Today, I'll throw myself into the debate.

When I was preparing for my first hunt to Africa in 2002, I wrote about it in this column. I received a phone call from Dr. William Delaney of Mitchell. The Delaneys invited Betsy and me to lunch in their home, and Dr. Bill took the opportunity to give me his thoughts on Africa, as well as showing us his slides.

Other than hunting on the same continent, similarities were few between our two hunts. Bill went to Nairobi and then into the East African bush where he took magnificent specimens of the Big Five -- something that couldn't be done today.

I hunted on a South African ranch out of Port Elizabeth for plains game. It was very cool, but it wasn't a full-blown safari out of what was then Tanganyika for animals that could kill you.

The late Dr. Delaney, modest and soft-spoken, emphasized one thing above all others. African game is no tougher than North American game. It is a simple matter of placement with a quality bullet. The man had the credentials to speak with authority. He killed 101 African animals with 104 shots. Keep in mind that while some of these animals were personal trophies, most went to feed the staff of porters, trackers, skinners, attendants, cooks, etc. Bait was also needed for the big cats.

While I'm in total agreement with Delaney, some African animals can seemingly go forever if bullet placement is poor. Our usual shot behind the front shoulder of a deer or pronghorn won't cut it. With certain African species, their massive shoulders are mostly muscle. Gemsbok, roan, and sable antelopes are built like our American bison. The rib cages that carry their vital organs are low on their bodies.

For this reason, hunters are told to put the crosshairs on the shoulders of these animals in order to break them down. On our 2007 hunt to Namibia, we all learned this firsthand while hunting gemsbok. Gemsbok are especially hard to bring down. They are also dangerous when wounded.

This thing about the toughness of African game may have started with the legendary Elmer Keith, the great gun writer and yarn spinner. As an author of books as well as a regular column in Guns & Ammo magazine, Keith expounded on the toughness of African game. To quote his book Safari, "I found all African game tough, beyond the comprehension of American sportsmen."

Coming from Keith, that was gospel to most hunters.

On Keith's 1958 safari, he had problems with poor bullet penetration. His slugs were breaking up before they penetrated deeply enough to do extensive internal damage. While I understand this problem, there was a solution at the time as pointed out by John Barsness in his article "Not So Tough" that appeared in the January-February 2011 edition of Sports Afield.

The Nosler partition bullet was on the market at the time of Keith's safari. This bullet would have solved Keith's penetration problems. This same great bullet is still on the market today. I have used it with total success on Arctic caribou, Newfoundland moose and African plains game, including the massive eland, Argentine stag and American elk.

Having said all this, I believe that some animals have a greater will to survive than others. Based on my limited experience, I still believe that caribou may not possess the heart of an elk when it comes to determination to escape while wounded.

It is significant that most of them haven't seen hunters before.

They don't connect a pain in their shoulder to the man with a rifle, so why run? Some say moose are the same. I don't know. One bull moose doesn't make me an expert.

On a much smaller scale, look at the pheasant. A wounded pheasant would try to hide on my pool table. While wounded sharptail grouse and prairie chickens make some effort to hide, the effort doesn't compare to that of our ringneck.

So, are African animals tougher? Are their bones harder, their skins thicker, and their internal organs more like leather? Not according to Dr. Delaney. Not according to me, either.

Getting back to Dr. Delaney, I see him as South Dakota's greatest hunter ever. When it came to pheasants and deer, his peers tell me that his skill was in a league of its own. Of the thousands of white hunters who have trod across Africa, his shooting record will never be equaled. For one thing, the trophy quality is gone. Hundred-pound elephant ivory was once an attainable, though difficult, benchmark. Today it is a fantasy. Kids need heroes. Though I'm old, gray, and fat, there's still a lot of kid in me. I'll take Doc.

* * * * * * * * * *

Anglers in the Burke area claim this has been the best year ever for ice fishing. Now is the time as we approach ice-out, but take precautions. Wear a flotation device, and don't go alone. If you don't know the western ponds, try Burke Lake. If that's too far, try Tripp Lake.

*See you next week.

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