My African Safari
For the past three years or so I’ve been thinking about hunting in Africa. It had always been a dream, but I’d never considered it to be a real possibility. However, prices has dropped in recent years, and the outfitter costs are now less than a caribou hunt in Quebec or a moose hunt in Newfoundland and western hunts are astronomical in cost.
Being on a pension, I looked at it as a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, but I was concerned with the cost (and the space) if I came back with a boxcar full of trophy mounts. Therefore I elected for a cull hunt, but I really wanted at least one trophy to hang on the wall. I used D&D Safaris as a booking agent, and they proved invaluable in arranging things for me.
The hunt I booked was with Tarentaalrand Safaris near Kimberley South Africa. This is an excellent operation that I recommend highly. I booked a 6 day, 5 animal cull hunt but I added one day and a trophy Kudu to the package. Ever since I saw my first picture of a Kudu, the species has fascinated me.
Cull hunts are used to reduce the herds, and are normally for female animals. Since the females of most African species have horns, it was my thought to have skull mounts made of the other animals I shot. Since Impala females don’t have horns, I was hoping I’d be allowed to take an immature male.
After flying overnight with no sleep I arrived in Kimberley at about 10:30 AM on Friday where the outfitter Theuns Cloete picked me up and took me to the lodge. After I got settled in, he took me out to the range to see if I could shoot. On the advice of the booking agent, I had decided to rent a rifle over there rather than go through the hassle of shipping and importing one into the RSA. The gun he gave me to use was one of Satan’s bolt action scope sighted magnum rifles . It was a Howa in .300 WinMag. The ammo was PRVI Partizan 170 grainers loaded to 2870 fps. The bullets were mainly copper with a small lead core in the front end, and though I didn’t get the bang/flops I prefer, all but one bullet exited, and with one exception the animals died within a short distance. The gun was quite heavy, but my only real problem with it was that the scope was mounted too far back for me, so after I shouldered the gun, I would have to move my head back and then down a bit to get a good sight picture.
I took some shots from the bench and a tripod, which satisfied him I could shoot (little did he know). Since my hunt didn’t officially start ‘till Saturday he had me grab my camera and took me for a tour of his properties. At one point the spotted a Red Hartebeest and suggested we make a play for it. All was good, however before long my jet lag and lack of sleep wore me down to a point where I was just dragging it, and when the animals moved off one more time, we abandoned the stalk.
Theuns was very tolerant of my rookie indecision, and allowed me to amend my shooting list several times while I was there.
The next morning we set out to see what we could find on what I’d describe as a combination still hunt/spot-and-stalk. We moved through a long winding area of cover that was a mixture of trees, brush and open areas along a dry drainage. We saw several animals - mainly Springbuck and Blue Wildebeest - but as we moved closer or set up the animals would move back into the brush. Finally, we located a small herd of Blue Wildebeest that we were able to move in on. Theuns set up the tripod for me and we watched 3 or 4 animals waiting for a clear broadside shot on a female. Finally one separated and stood broadside.
This whole thing was new to me. Nervousness, shooting from a rest (that I later realized was being set up uncomfortably high for me), the unfamiliar rifle, sighting system and uncomfortable eye relief, having the PH next to me while I shot, and incompetence led me to fire too far back (about where you’d hit the liver on a deer or moose). The animal staggered and then ran off. Theuns said he had been mistaken, and the animal was a decent male - not a female.
It seems blood trailing is virtually impossible with herd animals, and having been joined by Kevin (one of the trackers) we spent a lot of time trying to spot a downed animal or a hurt one in a herd or alone. After lunch Theuns’ 12 year old daughter Dorita added her young eyes to our search.
As dusk approached they decided that they’d exhausted every likely area the animal could be in, and they decided to try to stalk a small herd of Gemsbok we spotted. We pulled off on a relatively unused track, and started our stalk. Unfortunately the herd spotted us and stayed out of my range.
We went back to the truck and proceeded along the track to meet up with another road. Dorita said something in Africaans, and Theuns locked up the truck and threw it into reverse. She had spotted a Wildebeest laying under a tree. We got out and set up and the animal didn’t move. He’d decided that the animal was likely mine, but even if it wasn’t, it was likely sick or injured and should be removed anyway. He told me to shoot it in the head, but since I wanted a skull mount I tried to angle my bullet through the neck. As I squeezed the trigger he shifted his head and body, and I missed! I was so disgusted with myself I felt like handing the rifle off. The animal didn’t move much after the shot, but its neck was better exposed, so my next shot took him there and he died rather quickly. Apparently he was quite a good Wildebeest. My first shot had hit about 4 inches lower than I thought, and effectively gut-shot him.
The next morning we set out to hunt the same ribbon of cover, as the previous morning. We saw several Springbuck, but luck was against us, and my self confidence was totally shot by this time, causing me to take too much time getting set up.
We ran out of cover coming into an open area. Theuns told me to wait there and he’d get the vehicle and pick me up. He left the tripod behind, and I hung the rifle from it and moved over to sit down beside a thorn bush. There were a couple of Rhino at about 300 yds and moving away that I watched for a while. I sat there quite a while and dozed off sitting. I heard something moving on the other side of the bush and came alert. It was a Rhino at about 20 yds. I decided to stand up and move away from him. As I struggled to my feet, I looked away from him, and then I heard a loud thump, thump, thump. I looked back through the bush and saw him put on the brakes (just like in the movies) and stop maybe 20 feet from me. I moved quickly to the gun, while he trotted off about 30 yds and stood there giving me the evil eye. He eventually moved off just before Theuns returned. If I was going to have a heart attack on this trip, that would have been the time.
After lunch, Dorita joined us as we cruised the back roads looking for something to spot-and-stalk. We made a turn and saw a Hartebeest at about half a mile. Theuns pulled off behind some brush where he and I set off to stalk the Hartebeest. He had Dorita turn the truck around and go back hoping the animals wouldn’t be alerted by the truck. She parked the vehicle away from where we were hunting. We spent the better part of the next three hours trying to stalk within range of a female Hartebeest with no luck. I could have shot the herd bull 5 or 6 times as he made a habit of exposing himself to us while protecting his harem.
We came out to one of the roads just as the herd broke and ran away from us. Theuns got on the radio and called Dorita over to pick us up. She made a wrong turn and ended up taking the long way to pick us up. In doing so she put up a large herd of Springbuck that I saw running at right angles about half a mile away. They stopped and then turned more toward us but still on a line to miss us by 400 yds. They stopped again and turned straight toward us moving more slowly. When they came within my range, they were so tightly grouped that a shot might have resulted in the wounding of several. They stopped at about 100 yds and a few began to peel off to the right. Theuns said I could take any one of the animals on the right. Three times I aimed at an animal only to have another move into the line of sight. This didn’t happen with the 4th animal, and though I hit him a little bit back he was down almost on the spot. It turns out this was a male as well with a little above average set of horns. The range was 90 yds.
On Monday morning Theuns, Kevin and I tried some spot-and-stalk with no success. Then, having seen me have success waiting for the Springbuck to come to me the previous day, Theuns decided to change tactics and set up drives of sorts with me watching. He and I set up on the ground in the middle of a tree, and Kevin set out with the vehicle to circle around and then walk toward us. Shortly after he left, I looked at the crest of a low hill beside us, and saw the tips of Gemsbok horns - a lot of them - moving toward us. We set up and a herd of Gemsbok moved steadily by us coming as close as 40 yds.
Here we had a breakdown in communication. Earlier we had talked about what shots I should take, and I understood that I was to hold off until an animal stopped. Theuns identified an animal and told me to take it when I could. He meant when it was walking, and I thought he meant when it stopped. Being a wilderness hunter from Ontario, shots at moving animals are routine. So here I was anxious to shoot, but holding off because I thought that’s what the PH wanted, and he was wondering why I wasn’t shooting. The herd moved by and stopped at 135 yds. Theuns picked an animal and we set up again. After shooting the Wildebeest low, I decided the gun might be shooting a little low (vanity or what), and aimed high on the side of the Gemsbok. My shot went right over her spooking the whole herd.
We did a post mortem of both chances, and Theuns called Kevin to come back for us.. While we waited a small herd of common Blesbuck slowly moved into sight and then toward the area where I missed the Gemsbok. The herd stopped a little farther away than the Gemsbok. I blocked the miss out of my head, put the crosshairs on the shoulder and squeezed off at 185 yds. She took a couple of hops and died.
That afternoon, they decided to try the same approach again in a different part of the property. There was some brush and trees north of the area where we’d set up, but we were expecting the animals to come from the west.
Again, before Kevin had a chance to get into position, we noticed some Gemsbok approach and then hang up in the brushy area. Finally a single Gemsbok stepped into the clear at about 65 yds. It seemed to be acting as a sentry for the herd. Theuns gave me the go-ahead. I pulled on the shoulder, and shot. The animal went about 75yds - all within sight - and piled up. She was a beautiful animal with horns around 30 inches long. This is a little under what is considered to be a trophy Gemsbok, but I decided to have her mounted anyway.
After four animals down in three days of hunting we decided to shift our focus to my Kudu. From my reading, I learned that Kudu hunting is very difficult and physically taxing. I have an artificial hip, I’m arthritic, grossly overweight and terribly out of shape. I wondered if I had any chance of closing on a Kudu. Theuns assured me that he thought I had a real chance and he and Kevin would do their best to put me on an animal. Theuns estimated it would take 2 days to get me a Kudu.
So Tuesday morning we went to another part of the property that held more Kudu than where we’d been hunting. After a few minutes on the property, the road took us past a thick area, and we spotted some female Kudu with one immature male mixed in. Theuns and Kevin talked a bit in Africaans but we didn’t stop and proceeded along the road. After a few more minutes we stopped, and I was told that we’d stalk that herd in the hopes that there might be a trophy bull mixed in that we didn’t see as we drove by.
We moved ahead with Kevin in the lead (Theuns is training him to be a PH). After about 200 yds, Kevin saw something, but since he only was speaking to Theuns - and in Africaans - I was kind of out of the loop. Theuns turned to me and said they’d spotted two bulls with the herd, but they were a long way off, and we’d have a difficult stalk. We tried several approaches that petered out, when finally we stepped down into a dry drainage, and were able to use the terrain for cover.
Theuns set up the tripod and motioned me forward to mount the rifle. He pointed to a tree and said there was a trophy Kudu standing in it with his horns among the tree limbs. I looked over and couldn’t see a thing. He said it was facing right. The range was about 100 yds, and all I could make out was an orange leaf on the tree.
When I put the scope on the area, the Kudu stood out plain as day. The orange leaf was the inside of one of his ears. I put the crosshairs on the shoulder and shot. He humped and sprinted out of sight into the cover. While we waited before following up, two more mature bulls broke cover and ran to our right - one had a massive body.
We found him within about 60 yds of the shot. I was on cloud 9! A little over an hour into what should have been a tough two day hunt, we had our animal on the ground.
I did a little celebrating that night, and in the course of the evening, my desire for a male Impala led to my dropping the Hartebeest and paying for an upgrade to a trophy Impala.
The next morning, we started my Impala hunt with a stalk that fizzled when a herd of Springbuck ran off, and then took some Wildebeest and Zebras, drawing the Impalas we were targeting with them.
We moved to another area where Kevin spotted some Impala and we began a pursuit that took us a long way as they were wary of us. Eventually we got to a valley with some thick stuff in the bottom Theuns and Kevin were focused on the animals we had been following, which were off to the left. I noticed a single animal in the brush to the right, but couldn’t tell if it was male or not. We stalked to the left, but the herd eventually broke and ran off.
It was decided to make a swing to the right and circle a hill hoping some of the animals may have ducked in that direction. We just got moving when a mature impala was seen moving directly at us from the thicket where I saw the animal earlier. We set up, and Theuns gave me the go-ahead saying it was clearly a trophy animal. He was walking directly at me and slightly up hill not presenting the best of shots. Finally at 80 yds he turned slightly to his right giving me a shot at his left shoulder. He took off to my left - up hill - and gave a couple of hops before dropping. This was the only bullet that didn’t exit, and we discovered it just under the hide on the right hip. I understand it’s a very good Impala.
This left me with my full list of animals filled and 2 ½ days left. Rather than doing nothing, I decided to add a couple of more cull animals, and make them of species I hadn’t taken yet. I decided to add the Hartebeest back in and go for a black Wildebeest as well.
In the afternoon we spotted some Black Wildebeest and stalked and then followed them through some relatively open country. They kept moving ahead of us staying just out of range. Finally they held up in a thicket. A couple of attempts at getting a shot failed when the animal stepped back into the cover. Finally one stepped out, facing us, and I was on her, when she turned another animal walked behind, but finally the shooting lane cleared, and I put the shot on her shoulder. She dropped within 5 yds after a 200 yd shot.
The next morning we set out after a Hartebeest. I’d already spent more time trying to get a shot at a female Hartebeest, by far, than any other animal on this hunt. I felt the hunting gods were against me on this animal.
Our first hunt in the morning fizzled, and the second produced a chance at bulls only. In the afternoon we were stalking a herd, when they saw us and broke. The second hunt was on a lone animal that proved to be a bull. The third hunt was on a herd of 6 animals that finally hung up in some thick stuff. We had no cover to advance, so we set up and waited. Finally a female stepped clear and then presented a broadside shot. I shot her at 130yds, and she travelled less than 30 yds before dropping.
I decided that I`d exhausted my hunting budget, and besides we needed to spend some time at the bank and with the taxidermist, so I ended my hunt at this point. It was quite an adventure. Eight animals in 6 hunting days all from different species.