Franchi on Safari
The Last Great
Adventure on Earth
When a special location was sought for field testing Franchi’s new line of guns, Kenya’s historic gamefields provided the perfect place.
It’s often said that an African safari may be the last great adventure on earth. Franchi found out that may well be true on a recent bird shooting safari to Kenya, East Africa. The intention was to launch a brand new line of Franchi’s shotguns, designed along classical lines, and which, included the Instinct over & under models in 12- and 20-gauge and the Affinity semiautomatic models in 12- and 20-gauge.
Franchi liked the idea and soon gathered together an experienced, bird savvy group to do the field testing, including four notable outdoor writers:
Kenya doesn’t get much attention as a wing shooting destination, but bird shooting has in fact remained legal there even after big game hunting was shut down in 1979. Offering an unusual combination of classic sporting history, demanding conditions, and challenging shooting, Kenya seemed the ideal setting for field-testing Franchi’s brand new shotguns. A more fascinating and interesting place for a shotgun introduction would be hard to find.
Laying out the plan
The first hunting area would be in the dry thorn bush country along the Galana River, east of Tsavo National Park, an area famous for the man-eating lions that stopped construction of the Uganda railway and for the native Waliangulu tribe that hunted big elephant with massive 100-lb. draw weight bows and poisoned arrows. The bird shooting on the Galana is renowned for large numbers of dove, sandgrouse and the unique and distinctive vulturine guinea fowl, which happen to be special to that area. The bag limits are liberal, allowing for roughly 50 birds per gun per day, depending on the mix of species.
A second area would include Masailand, which is adjacent to Amboseli National Park and just north of Mt. Kilimanjaro near the Tanzanian border—clearly one of the most picturesque settings in Africa. The third hunting area would be on private land near the town of Bissell along the route back to Nairobi from Amboseli. Each of these areas has featured in any number of big game tales from the days when Kenya and sport hunting were synonymous, including classic safari sagas written by the likes of Hemingway and Ruark.
“Kenya offered a unique proving ground. I have never subjugated a gun to that much dust, sand, dirt and grime and had it keep functioning every shot regardless of ammo. The Franchi Affinity did it with a smile.”-Mike Schoby, Editor, Petersen’s Hunting Magazine
The Franchi safari group came to a total 14 people, including 11 shooters and three TV production crew that were there to film the action for upcoming episodes of Benelli On Assignment. The safari was conducted in a traditional manner by outfitter David Darnborough, who owns the Galana River Lodge (Map) where the hunt began. Darnborough, who was in charge of all safari logistics and hunt details, was assisted by Rob Duff and long-time professional hunter Soren Lindstrom, who was accompanied by his grandson, Matt. Mike Cheffings of Bateleur Safaris organized the Masailand portion of the bird shoot, providing a well-equipped traditional tented camp and organizing a colorful group of Masai to act as beaters and gun bearers for the Franchi bird shooters.
Malindi to Galana
The safari began from the coastal town of Malindi, located on the shores of the Indian Ocean. The group journeyed by four-wheel-drive-vehicles to the first hunting area, located on the Galana River, 80 miles inland. This area is known for its wonderful variety of game birds species, including crested francolin, both black-faced and chestnut-bellied sandgrouse, yellow-necked spur fowl, rock pigeons, and several species of doves—mourning doves, ring-necked doves and laughing doves.
But the real prize from this area is the unique and distinctive vulturine guinea fowl, whose range is strictly limited to the dry bush country of eastern Kenya. They are not only distinctive for their striking plumage, marked by royal blue and white striped neck feathers, but also their conspicuously “vulturine” heads that will cause most observers to do a double-take when they first spot one. These birds provided lots of action and excitement, with the group always mindful about possibly bumping into a lion, elephant or buffalo in the thick bush and grasslands where they occur.
The Franchi group enjoyed the camaraderie and friendship that develops among those who face and wrestle natural challenges together and reap the rewards from the effort. Being “on safari” makes that experience is even sweeter. Bob Williams remembers his Galana experience for the sheer variety of species and the different techniques employed to hunt them—he took pride in becoming a qualified “guinea-runner.”
“Dodging full tilt through a thorn bush maze to outflank a flock of vulturine guinea fowl; skidding to a stop as they break cover, birds tumbling at our shots like blue-flamed pumpkins; touching their rich plumage in wonder: the work of a most august imagination, was a big part of the fun,” Williams described for an article he penned while still in Africa.
“The Instinct fit me like a glove. Sometimes it takes me awhile to adapt to a new gun, but I bagged the first five sandgrouse I shot at with six shells and we had no easy shots on those birds.” -Layne Simpson, Intermedia Outdoors.
Each morning at daybreak the group traveled to waterholes, to which sandgrouse, doves and rock pigeons flighted for a drink. Doves and sandgrouse are both speedy fliers that presented challenging and enjoyable shooting for the group. Later, around the campfire they were enjoyed again and maybe even more so when grilled over an open fire as bacon-wrapped, beer bites.
Journey to Masailand
On the fifth day the group bid farewell to the fascinating big game country of the Galana River and journeyed through Tsavo National Park toward Masailand, the next bird shooting destination. Following the Galana River upstream and meandering through Tsavo’s acacia-studded savanna and commiphora woodlands, provided a game-viewers delight with animals almost always in sight. Difficult-to-see lesser kudu and long-necked gerenuk, as well as more obvious game like elephant, buffalo, lion, giraffe, hippo, crocs, waterbuck, hartebeest, and oryx were easily spotted along the way. A stop where a railway bridge crosses the Tsavo River is where a couple of man-eating lions terrorized laborers and brought the construction of the bridge to a halt for several months back in 1898. A sundown arrival at Kilaguni Lodge completed an exciting day spent among Africa’s biggest game and wildest country.
The next day the group continued their journey to Masailand, where they met up with Mike Cheffings of Bateleur Safaris (Map). A traditional tented camp was pitched among large acacia trees that provided a most picturesque setting and a grand view of snow-capped Mt. Kilimanjaro.
A group of Masai morani joined the hunt, offering the group a warm welcome. The morani not only added enthusiasm to the safari, but were an energetic group who thoroughly enjoyed participating in the hunt, especially the challenge of “driving” flocks of helmeted guinea fowl and yellow-neck spur fowl.
“When the guns are positioned in the right spot, then the Masai beaters form a line at the opposite end of the cover and try to move forward as a unit. This is harder than it sounds because they’re walking over rocks, and through gullies, and thorny thickets you wouldn’t believe, as well as watching out for the occasional annoyed big game animal that might just happen to be a buffalo,” Bob Williams described in his journal. “If all goes well, the birds move ahead of the beaters until they run out of cover, then flush over the guns, with most shots in the 20-40 yard range.”
“I was tremendously impressed with the new Instinct SL. It performed beautifully across the whole range of shooting we encountered, from chasing guinea fowl through thorn bush to slinging pellets and a prayer at high sandgrouse. When I left for Kenya I certainly didn’t need a new shotgun, but by the time I headed home I hated the thought of not taking that little 20 after quail and dove here in Georgia. Thanks for letting me buy the prototype!” —Robert Williams, Field Editor, Sporting Classics
The camaraderie the group came to know and embrace now included a group of Masai warriors who bonded with the shooters by the challenge of the hunt. Trekking through the bush, being mindful of the dangers and working together as a team, guides, natives and visitors all came to know and appreciate each other in ways that only comes when success is the only option. With the challenge of the hunt, communication among those of different languages becomes as easy a look or a gesture and the meaning is immediately acknowledged with a nod. Of course, knowing a little Swahili helps on the plains of Masailand.
Franchi Feels Right
The African bush is full of gun-scratching rocks and gun-grabbing thorns that given a chance will scar attractive gunstocks and mar fine engraving. In addition, piling in and out of a vehicle several times a day also takes a toll on guns, not to mention the talcum powder dust conditions that prevail when it’s dry.
The best gun to bring on safari is a dependable, well-balanced field gun that fits and feels right. A good 20- or 12- gauge double like the new Franchi Instinct or the Affinity semiauto proved to be ideal. The new Franchi guns performed extremely well, during an exceptional trip to some very special gamefields. Taking Franch’s new guns on safari to Kenya more than surpassed everyone’s expectations.
When asked, Jeff summarized the trip best: “Is halfway around the world a long way to go for a few birds, you ask? Where else can you go to run down vulturine guinea fowl, shoot waves of sandgrouse in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro, hunt doves near the treacherous Galana River with Joe Coogan in the exact same place he took his first elephant, stand on the Tsavo railroad where two man-eating lions stymied the British Empire, and wrestle Masai warriors after a glorious day of hunting crested francolin and yellow necked spur fowl? Fact is, you can’t do these things in South Dakota, Texas, Argentina or even New Zealand. Is Kenya a long way to go for a few birds? It seemed awful short to me.”