An email arrived with a short-and-sweet message: there are three of us and we want to hunt.
Great, me too, so let’s make it happen. A few emails to-and-fro and we have a hunt with an interesting start. Three guys from three different parts of the world arriving on the same day at three different times. First to touch down was Jon at 05:30, second was Blaine at 10:30 and last was Eli at 13:30 and we still had three hours to travel before hitting camp.
Jr took the other truck and staff to the hunting destination so they could set up camp before we arrived. We hit the road running and stopped only for emergencies like food and drink before arriving in camp a tad before last light. Our beds were comfortable and we were hungry so we raided the dining room with a vengeance before having a cold Castle (or twenty-two) by the fire.
On the full moon, we retired to the snoring room rather early. Jet lag and a foreign country with food and drink was an inviting pitfall none of us could resist. So, we did not.
The name: Mid-West Mzungus took the better part of the whole trip to be suggested by the three men. I made several suggestions but seemingly the Three Fairies did not sit too well with military men and a taxidermist.
I woke early as usual to find Jr with the shooting ear muffs on his head protecting his ears. The only reason I could think why he was wearing such ridiculous head gear was due to the howling jackals outside our room.
Early morning coffee with rusks, cereal, fruit and yoghurt are the hunters’ choice of food to get you going on any given hunting day. A short briefing about safety while traveling on the back of the hunting truck (which everyone forgets) was accepted as early morning coffee before heading out to the shooting range. No need for most safety regulations with regards to firearms as two of the three-man-team were serving Marines (Semper Fi I believe). A few shots later and we were ready for action. Any kind of action.
Brunch saw us back at the lodge rip-roaring-and-ready-to-eat. With great gusto the tremendous meal, prepared by Michael, was served to and appreciating audience. After the first second round, we all stared at the ceiling for a while before attacking the bush with vengeance.
A few impala hot spots abound on our hunting property and after taking a left, several rights and another left, Eli and I left the truck.
The Bog tripod works extremely well until fumbling fingers tries working the mechanisms. Fortunately, all went well and the two of us set off on a search for the impala we saw a few minutes prior. We were almost 10 minutes into the walk when the walk became a stalk with a beautiful impala male staring us down from almost 80 yards out. We were uninterrupted and set up the tripod for Eli to take his first ever shot at an African game animal. This is likely not completely true as it was his first shot at any kind of animal as he had never been hunting before.
Seconds felt like hours and I wondered what Eli was thinking about. Maybe he forgot to pay a utility bill before leaving and wanted to do something about it? Right about then the Marlin 243, loaded with factory 100 gr Winchester ammunition and armed with a Numenor suppressor barked silently.
If I had not witnessed the shot personally I would likely not have believed Eli’s story by the fire that night. He began by suggesting a howling cross-wind of at least 30 mph at a running impala from almost 648 yards out, firing the shot almost 15 yards ahead of the quarry! Good grief, where did this military man come from: sniping targets in Afghanistan from the Pakistani side of the border?
Nonetheless, it is what it is and I will stand by the official version of a running impala at 648 yards in a howling cross-wind.
Needless to say, the impala flopped down (Alex from NY, it was a bang-flop) between his hooves on his way back to Indiana.
I will refrain from referring to the number of times this story was echoed to all jackal complaining at our fire surrounded by Castle that night.
We were up early, had the ceremonial coffee and condiments before hitting the hunt at a run. It seemed the hunting crew only started functioning by about 10:00 as before that time the only requirements were cigarettes and no talking.
Brunch softened the low with regards to gum flapping. After brunch Blaine spoke so much we were all looking forward to breakfast so our ears could have some R&R.
On our way to brunch we noticed a Vervet monkey up in a tree. Just so Blaine could stop flapping his gums he was ordered to shoot the monkey, one that was responsible for leading many others in raids on the kitchen at base camp.
The morning shift yielded no more than sight-seeing with the giraffes on the neighboring property that attracted most of our attention. A stalk or two went bust and the evening by the fire went down great. We were to attack another property early the following morning and had to leave by 05:30 to be at the hunting destination on time.
During the afternoon session Blaine, Eli and myself settled in for a relaxing afternoon at a waterhole ready for animal entertainment. Magical would be an understatement once we had our chairs in place. Within 20 minutes the first waterbuck cow arrived and after another 20 minutes the county waterbuck population was in attendance.
Two young kudu bulls showed precisely they thought they were way better looking than the waterbuck. Impala showed up just for show and were no further than 20 yards from us.
It was getting late and we were looking forward to beer-o-clock when the first wildebeest calf charged in followed by another one and then the whole herd. It was happy hour at the waterbar and everyone was happy to be there, apart from all those the wildebeest simply bullied away from everything. A big bull wildebeest was showing his stuff and tried to impress the ladies by his stature. He was the centerpiece of the whole herd and offered no shot till he separated himself from the commoners. I whispered to Blaine that soon as the wildebeest walked away, I was going to call him, he would stop and then there was going to be opportunity for a shot.
Like I wrote the book on calling wildebeest: it moved to the side and I called him out loud. Poor Blaine was concentrating so much on the shot he almost fell off the chair when I called. The wildebeest was most amused at being yelled upon that he simply stopped and turned at the exact correct angle. Right about then the 30 – 06 hunting rifle barked and the wildebeest fell right down where it once stood. The second wildebeest to fall down at the shot in three years. What a shot and congratulations.
With military precision, we departed at 05:30 under no protest. A hasty cigarette before departure ensured all were doing well.
Arrival at the other hunting property was not too soon. Three sleepy men poured out the sides of the truck in such haste it seemed a brush fire was raging within seconds of their emergency evacuation of the truck.
The ranch manager and I spoke a few words with regards to the animals required and off we went on the 20 000-acre property. Game animals abound and blesbok was high on the agenda. Within a few minutes we found the first contestants and set off on a stalk. It was amazing to find a herd of blesbok that consisted only of females, dependent young and juveniles. We were not hunting for any of those so we fired a warning shot at a huge solitary blesbok male a few hundred feet from us. The official story I was told to stick to started with: …there was a howling wind…
By mid-morning hunter Jon thawed completely when we saw a solitary springbok in the next county, aimlessly walking about. If this was the old sick one that was wounded two seasons ago, it was the ideal candidate for the apprentice hunters. We stalked the old timer to within 150 yards (officially 383 yards) before the 243 dropped the South African heritage animal in its tracks.
We managed a few pictures before the plume opened in a half-hearted manner. The account was now open.
A couple hours later, Eli and I dismounted the truck (APC) and commenced a stalk on a herd of zebra. A brisk walk was interrupted by a lone blue wildebeest bull sunning himself in the late morning sun. It must have been a rude awakening as he snorted from both ends before departing in the general direction of the zebra. Of course, the zebra did not ask why he was running as he did and took off ahead of the poor man’s buffalo, taking a herd of six giraffe with them. To this day I am sure none of the animals really knew why they were running, but they did.
At that point Eli and I started walking back to truck, motioning them to pick us up. En-route the truck disturbed a herd of blesbok that ran like athletes in our direction. Well, what do you know? Here we were wanting to get back on the truck so Eli got back on the sticks and fired a 180 gr Barnes TTSX at a blesbok from the 30 – 06 from about 100 yards out. A loud impact was observed but no blesbok recovered. We decided to allow the cursory time limit of an hour to pass before tracking it.
It was getting late and most of the crew were looking forward to a decent meal so we headed to the exit when, suddenly, a wounded blesbok jumped up in front of us. Needless to say, growing up with Kentucky squirrel guns in the woods of Indiana, sniper Eli threw lead at the blesbok hitting it fatally. Now this is what is known as a good start to a great lunch.
Our destination of choice for lunch was Steers that are known to produce the best burgers in the country. What we realized while in the store that it just happened to be Wacky Wednesday! Yep, two burgers for the price of one and we were hungry. 14 burgers, 14 packets of fries and seven drinks later we were back at the hunting property.
As a side note: we did visit the local gun shop to replenish out dwindling armory supplies. Warning shots do not come cheap and there were aplenty of those.
It seemed as if the visit to the gun shop (with a pretty female attendant) along with food not generally found in other rural African countries, spurred the visiting military men to new heights.
Blaine was put on a blesbok at about 200 yards away from us. The first shot rang out and the beautiful male ran almost 50 yards before laying down. We allowed the animal a few minutes before we approached and dispatched it.
Right about then we noticed the zebra again. With renewed interest, we approached and set up camp. We were only allowed to hunt stallions and deciding between who is a stallion and who is a mare takes some time. Also, these herd animals do not stand extremely still for long periods of time.
Finally, a decision was made and sniper Eli sent the 180-gr projectile to meet up with his zebra, about 250 yards out. By now we knew that whatever the story, the howling wind portion was not going to cut it.
A loud thwack indicated a solid hit. The stallion turned and favored his right front leg while running away. We marked the spot and had some soft drinks. It is always a pleasure working with disciplined hunters who will not use alcohol when working with firearms. Thank you, gentlemen, this is a trend found among all hunters I have had the privilege of sharing a fire with.
An hour later our attention was drawn to a herd of zebra. We were unsure if it was the same herd we saw earlier, so allowed hunter Jon (the taxidermist), to take a shot. The herd scrambled and were unsure in which direction to take off. Two things happened almost simultaneously: the zebra Jon shot lagged, turned in his tracks and fell in a heap of dust. Secondly, we all noticed the limping zebra!
We managed to leap frog the herd and I got hold of the 243, firing 4 shots at the running animal, hitting it at least once. Jon asked if he could shoot and when everyone was out of the way, I managed to witness one of the best shots I had ever seen. This story is true: the animal was running at dead speed, about 280 yards out and Jon let the 30 – 06 do the talking on his behalf. It was one of those shots where you hear the crack when the shot is fired, you hear the shot passing over a huge expanse of open grass fields, then you see the animal drop and at last you hear the impact as it echoes back at you. Massive shot man. Congratulations indeed.
After pictures were taken we headed back to the where the other zebra was hit but ran into three huge chickens. The ostrich was just way too tempting for Jon and after maneuvering once or twice, dropped the bird to the ground with the – 06. Seemed like the running shot unleashed a monster within.
What a day it turned out to be.
Battle stations. We needed three hogs and two impala by the close of business to fill our tags. This was a huge ask so we decided to skip brunch in favor of hunting. We would also split up to maximize our chances.
Early morning saw us at the back of the mountain when we saw a couple of impala lazily grazing in the early morning sun. Blaine was up and a short stalk later he was on the sticks, but, alas, no impala were to be seen. Sign language between the tracker on the truck and myself was as clear as night so I stopped pursuing that route. I moved to the side to allow Blaine to shoot whenever I showed him where the impala was. Without warning I sensed someone or something was looking at me when about 30 paces away from Blaine. I stopped, looked up and there, not 85 yards out was a beautiful impala male staring at me. I asked in a low voice if Blaine could see the impala and when he said yes, I said, shoot it. Which he did.
Impact indicated it was hit but ran like wildfire disappearing over the crest of the mountain. Marking the spot, we approached on the truck and dismounted from where we walked closer. About 10 minutes later, the impala partially faced us from almost 100 yards out. Partially yes as the rest of the body was behind a young buffalo thorn tree. All we could see was the upper neck and the head. Blaine needed no further invitation and when I said to shoot, the wounded impala dropped where it stood. Hitting a target as narrow as an impala neck (5” roughly) takes some shooting.
One down, four to go.
After another great brunch, Eli set up at a waterhole waiting for warthogs. He was first to strike after about 20 minutes at the waterhole. Two down, three to go.
Jon did not need think twice when his boar showed up and bought the one-way ticket for his hog with the 243. Three down, two to go.
And then sunset caught us.
An emergency meeting with a unanimous vote declared we were to hunt till lunch the following day which was the first day of the non-hunting part of the trip.
Slightly before lights out, the foreigners were introduced to a pure South African remedy for shooting crooked. Here we call this kind of medication by the traditional name of Mampoer. Mampoer does not have any English language equivalent name, but may be known as Moonshine in certain parts of the United States of America.
After the first shot (pun intended), miraculously the Trifecta of hunters were healed from all ill and went to bed.
On advice from the landowner we set up at a specific watering hole for impala and warthog. We had not been sitting for 20 minutes when the first animal came waltzing in, solemnly unaware of his impending trip to the US.
Blaine did not need a second invitation and neither did the 30 – 06. The hog went down as if poleaxed. One down, one to go.
An hour later the whole crew slept while I vigilantly stood guard. At about that time a warthog of epic proportions rolled in to inspect the waterhole. On my advice Jon opted to exchange his impala for this hog. The mistake I made was to tell Jon that it was a monster hog.
The thud of impact reverberated clearly, the old timer dropped to the ground, spun several times, got up and ran away. I tracked best I could, later calling for real trackers and with the aid of two experienced trackers decided we lost the hog after three hours of tracking.
After brunch, we packed up and left for the Eastern parts of the country on a sight-seeing mission. Two hours beyond Pretoria, we spent the first night at the Dullstroom Inn, a quaint country hotel on the Eastern Highlands of South Africa.
In the games room Jon tried his hand at the local gambling machine and 30 minutes later bought dinner from the proceeds. Jon knew when to call it a night and after a hefty dose of Mampoer the room occupied by the Americans went quiet.
We needed to depart at 06:00 to keep to our schedule and at 06:05 headed out the gate. Blaine bravely tried to keep up conversation to help keep me awake, but went silent as we took the second left out of Dullstroom.
Our destination was the reptile park at Hoedspruit that opened at 08:00. By 08:10 we accessed the reptile park and saw a few nasty critters. Eli may have had a sure sign of fear when he was introduced to the local python. The slithering body round his neck had nothing to do with his hasty visit to the restroom (the Head, I believe) after the picture taking ceremony.
Our next stop was to meet Jessica the world-famous hippo. A number of tourists were standing about so we took charge and waited for our guide to give us the do’s and do-not’s. It is always amazing to see this huge hippo interact with humans. This is a must see when in Hoedspruit.
Lunch was in the bustling Airforce town of Hoedspruit, recently being overrun by tourists. The development of a true one-horse-town to a bustling enterprise is astonishing.
From the local Wimpy we dropped our gear at the guest house before heading to the Moholoholo Wildlife Rehab Center. Wimpy was voted the new all-time favorite eating place as one could have burgers AND smoke at the same time!
Below are a few moments of a fantastic tour at the rehab center.
The last night before heading back will be remembered for the amazing meal prepared by Jon, Blaine and Eli. They bought the goods and cooked it like chefs.
Thank you Blaine and Eli for your service. Thank you Jon for all you did while here.
Till next time.