Looking towards my upstairs office window from the pole on top of which the vervet monkey was sitting eating the apple.
Although I am a veteran ex-game ranger, professional hunter, wildlife manager, and periodic Southern African hunting magazine scribe, it was only during a trip to the UK from South Africa in about 2012, I saw for the first time a magazine titled Airgun Shooter. Reading it fascinated me. I couldn’t believe how big the airgun shooting industry in the UK is. In South Africa and Zimbabwe, very little is written about airguns, although they are readily available but in the main confined to club level competitive target shooting.
As young boys in the then British colonial Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) we cut our hunting and shooting teeth using airguns. My first was a Falk90 bought for me when I was 8 years old and over the years that trusty .22 Cal airgun killed a lot of doves, francolins, and bush squirrels, not to mention the odd rat. Ultimately, and at about 10 years old I graduated to a ‘hand me down’ .22 long Remington rifle, and then to a 12ga double shotgun of some obscure Spanish make, however, I still cherished the Falk90 and used it whenever the opportunity arose.
From my office window where I took the shot. I have highlighted in red the top of the pole where the vervet monkey was sitting.
Seemingly too, and going by the stories I read in Airgun Shooter, what they refer to as ‘pest’ control in the UK using the .177 is extremely popular, whereas in Southern Africa, it is probably unheard of amongst mainstream regular shooters, aside from the odd farm youngster who might shoot fruit eating birds in a farm orchard. And yet, we had numerous birds, such as bulbuls, mousebirds, starlings, crows etc all of which would on a seasonal basis easily fall into the ‘pest’ category, and afford fun shooting. In the southern African wildlife conservation field, the term ‘pest’ isn’t generally used, and if a mammal, it is referred to as a Problem Animal and dealing with it is called Problem Animal Control (PAC). From the consumptive side southern Africa has a good variety of doves, which at times also become problematic, and yet I’ve never read or heard of an airgun being used for their control, or for general sport shooting in southern Africa.
Availability of airguns and their ownership in South Africa, provided it is in .177 calibre is not problematic because no license is required, and as a result, a good variety of quality airguns can be found in most sporting goods and hardware stores. Some years before we emigrated to the UK, I bought a break-barrel spring-loading Hatsan1000S Grey Striker .177 and I bought it, firstly because the price suited my budget, and secondly because I liked the feel of it for the task I had in mind, namely problem animal control but of a slightly different kind. A problem vervet monkey constantly plundering the bird table and the vegetable patch in our garden. Using a 12ga in suburbia can cause a bit of angst and alarm due to the noise, although I have done it.
At Left: My choice of pellets were H&N Sport Baracuda
The Hatsan1000S Grey Striker had a number of features which given my budget certainly helped with my purchase choice. It was a single-shot break barrel action with an ambidextrous stylish synthetic stock inclusive of a Montecarlo cheekpiece on both sides. Soft rubber inlays on grip and forearm for better control and feel, and a rubber butt pad for recoil absorption. It also had a grooved cylinder for 11mm scope mounts and mounted scope stop. The trigger pull was adjustable, and it had a precision rifled steel barrel with a manual safety and automatic cocking safety. A micro adjustable rear sight for windage and elevation, and a large muzzle break for easy cocking, inclusive of an integrated hooded front sight with Truglo fibre optics.
At Left: Some of the H&N Sport 10.65gr Baracuda pellets.
Before going any further, I must make clear; I have nothing against monkeys provided they remain in their true bush environment, and don’t become over familiar in and around human habitation. If left unchecked when artificially fed, monkeys soon become human habituated and will show no hesitation in entering homes through a kitchen window left open, and creating destructive damage within. A friend and neighbour of ours once returned home and found eight vervet monkeys in their kitchen! Sadly, there are those misguided individuals (normally anti-hunters) who believe monkeys living on the fringe of suburbia need to be fed, and therein lies the problem. In next to no time, you have ‘problem’ monkeys. No longer content to forage far and wide over a home range, they prefer to hang around these artificial feed stations, and plunder neighbouring yards and homes.
In Bathurst, which is an Eastern Cape 1820 British Settler hamlet where we lived, 12km inland from the coast, our vervet monkey population had expanded phenomenally over the previous decade. Not helped any by the fact they have no natural predators such as leopard, python, and hyena, all of which were killed over a century ago by agriculturalists, thus ensuring the only regulator of the resident monkey population was the rifle, sickness, or old-age. Artificial feeding also staves off for a period of time, natural monkey deaths from old age. However, people emotions in an urban environment don’t generally allow you to use the rifle as a regulator. They normally get upset, and call for municipal meetings and town hall protests.
Like most people we loved our garden birds and the delightful little Cape whiteyes were regular fruit eating visitors to our bird table, until the monkey started plundering our fruit offerings.
Like most people, we loved our birdlife, and our garden was a haven for wild birds such as weavers, doves, orioles, robin-chats, thrushs, barbets, hornbills, bulbuls, mousebirds, whiteyes, drongos, sunbirds, hoopoes and flycatchers. During the dry winter months, we used to feed them with grain, fruit, insects in suet, and a variety of other tasty titbits. Fruit such as apples, we cut in half and placed on spikes fixed to a sneezewood pole. We also used bananas, pears, and other fruit, whilst grain and breadcrumbs were placed on a two-tier bird table (a converted cat scratching post). The garden birds loved it, and the adjacent birdbath, but once a composite troop of about 10 monkeys, and 2 solitary outcast males found it, they began to cause havoc, so I declared war on some of them.
The two big old males in particular, who were outcasts due to age, were doing most of the plundering and they became exceedingly good at it. Obviously, a monkey is not a small creature, and due to their lifestyle, they’re both athletic and fairly muscular, so when using a small projectile like .177 pellet, correct shot placement is vitally important, with no margin for error. I decided there were only two choices, a head shot into the brain, or a frontal chest shot into the heart. To that end I decided to use German H&N Sport Baracuda pellets (South Africa didn’t have the variety of pellets available in the UK). Classed as an ‘accurate heavy pellet’ H&N Sport Baracuda are 10.65gr and get a 5 rating on distance, and a 4 rating on precision. My Hatsan air rifle did not wear a scope, and I used the standard factory fitted Truglo fibre optic sights which I was quite happy with after zeroing the rifle.
We had an upstairs office and reloading room in our home, and the furthest I would have to shoot from the office window would be a ranged 40m which did concern me a little, although to the bird table from the window was only a 30m shot which I was happy about, and especially so after having tried a few shots at a large empty tin placed at that distance. The pellet entered one side, and exited the other. One late Monday afternoon, we were sat downstairs in our hunting trophy room and bar, when I noticed our chocolate point Siamese tomcat, Milo, who was resting on the lawn off to one side of the bird table, suddenly crouch down agitatedly and crane his head through 90º to look straight up. Peeping round the curtain, I noticed one of the big solitary male monkeys, who we sometimes referred to as a ‘Jacko,’ on top of the bird table. He was eating the bread crusts and had already plundered some of the apples.
The bird table plundering vervet monkey after his demise. Lying alongside him is the Hatsan1000S Grey Striker air rifle.
Quickly running upstairs, I grabbed the Hatsan and loaded it before creeping up to the window and slowly looking out, so as not to attract attention. By then, the monkey had moved off and was sat atop a fence pole, his legs hanging down relaxed, while he nonchalantly enjoyed eating a plundered half apple. He was perfectly presented for a frontal chest or brain shot, but given the distance, I opted for a high chest shot and using the windowsill as a rest slipped a pellet into the centre of his upper chest. He immediately flung the half apple away, toppled off the fence pole, tried to run off but fell dead, a mere metre from where he’d hit the ground. Using my laser rangefinder, I checked the distance and it was exactly 37.5 yards, a perfect shot on a wily monkey who’d played evasive games with me for weeks. When we weighed him, he tipped the scales at 13lbs. Certainly a big vervet monkey.
Exactly where the monkey fell after I'd shot it. Blue, my yellow lab gets in a quick sniff.
This action on my behalf toward the marauding monkeys saw them stay away for about a month, before returning, and although I never attempted to shoot another one, rather relying on the dogs to chase them off, there was another bold, aggressive, and solitary male who might have met the same fate as his late associate had we decided not to emigrate. Going into summer each year our biggest concern was snakes, we’d already lost our beloved Scottie, Rigby, to a large puffadder right outside the kitchen door, and we also used to periodically get the deadly Cape cobra in our garden. For these problem snakes the .177 was the ideal antidote, however, at the end of the day, neither deadly snakes nor monkeys belong in urban gardens.
Mature old vervet monkey males have formidable incisors which can do a lot of damage to humans and pets alike.
The vervet monkey weighed 13lbs which translates to a big vervet monkey.