Tom and Carol are visiting from the USA on a quest for an animal that Tom has had his sights on for a very long time. After many months of writing to-and-from, the couple finally arrived at the international airport in Johannesburg. Passing through customs was a breeze, and thankfully so.
The SAPS clearing the rifle at the OR Tambo International Airport was amazing. The police officer ensuring the SAPS 520 was filled out correct did a great job indeed and sooner than later we were on our way.
We spent the first night in Pretoria to avoid night driving on deserted roads with many stray animals on it.
To allow for the morning rush hour traffic we had a peaceful breakfast before taking the 3-hour journey to the North West Province. Both Tom and Carol were excited and had several questions about the hunt. Tom kept on asking about the possibility of his special animal.
On arrival, we unpacked our hunting gear and headed to the shooting range while Louisa started preparing snacks.
The shooting range turned out to be an interesting exercise. Usually the first shot should be ignored as there is still oil in the barrel. And so it proved. The second shot was slightly less well-placed and by the third shot we had the neighbors in three counties away aware we were firing warning shots at the target.
Finally we realized the box of hand loaded ammunition was the one with the cases that was fired previously for a few times. Switching ammunition we had the rifle shooting on a dime at 100 yards within two shots.
Lunch could not have passed quick enough as we headed out to start hunting. One thing we could see for sure that the drought of the past three years was broken. The bushveld was / is extremely dense this time of year. It was going to be challenging to get the animals requested.
The first afternoon hunt yielded nothing – at least, none of the animals we hunted to hunt was in the salt as we did not see any of them.
Up early for coffee and what-not and we were off. Up the mountain to glass the valley below and still nothing. According to the owner and his manager we were likely to find the blue wildebeest in a specific area and concentrated our efforts where we were told.
An early glimpse of a small herd of wildebeest had our hearts beating. It was time to see how well Tom could shoot and he was ready. I was ready. Willy and the rest of the team were ready. And alas, no good bull in the herd. We decided to pursue further and went for a walk that turned out to become an extended walk. Still we found no good, mature bull and continued to walk downhill. This proved to strain Tom’s knee and so we learned Tom would be able to walk up the hill, but preferably not down the hill.
Brunch was great again. A rest-up before the afternoon hunt saw us refreshed and ready to hunt some more.
Unfortunately, the afternoon turned out the same as the morning and we still had nothing in the salt. It was not a good omen, but this is hunting and we knew we were in for some more hunting in the following few days.
That night we made a call to a property where we were going to hunt for red lechwe.
We were in the truck and heading out by 5 am to the property, allegedly a couple hours from where we were. Luckily the coffee shop in one of the small towns was open when we were passing through by 8 am. This allowed us to stretch our legs, get a caffeine fix and to listen to the locals discussing the upcoming farmers show.
On the road again and the final stretch was in sight. We met the farmer who took us to the hunting area and then Tom saw his all-time favorite animal. The breeding bull was not for sale to mere mortals so we had to pass up on him.
About an hour in to the hunt we saw the red lechwe. One thing for sure is these animals do not tend to stand still and wait for any specific indication you are hunting them. Nope, he moved off. So we circled back and came across a bigger male. What a pleasure it was to see the old timer (the lechwe – there were no old timers in our hunting group) as he literally snuck away and behind bushes. We followed, found him again and just as Tom was about ready to take the shot the lechwe moved again.
Red lechwe hunting is not always easy as with most hunting opportunities. After a number of attempts the lechwe finally stuck his front half two inches too far from behind a bush. The two inches gave Tom the opportunity we were all looking forward to and the 300 barked. The lechwe leapt into the air and ran like he was being chased by a lightning bolt. Somehow you just know when a good shot was taken and this was one of those times. We gave the lechwe a 10-minute grace period before we moved to the general area where he was last seen.
We finally found him in a patch of tall grass. Relief might have been an understatement.
A great start to a great hunt as the one-shot kill dispelled all fears of going home empty handed.
After gutting the animal, we headed out to another property for the biggest of our antelope species.
We left this property by about 1 pm and were allegedly heading to a property about an hour from there. On arriving at the property by 3 pm we had lunch at the hunter’s hut while being treated to a number of bird calls over the huge lake. An African fish eagle announced his presence while the various plovers echoed their warning calls across the water and anyone willing to listen or not.
By 4 pm it had cooled down to the extent we could start hunting. It seemed the animals were not spooked too much and could have hunted a variety of species that were not on our list.
Finally, James spotted something that took his fancy and motioned with excitement to make a U-turn. We headed the other way and were going to try and head off the heard of eland he saw way off in the distance.
At a specific point we stopped and headed out on foot. It was great being outdoors with people sharing your passion and willing to learn more about the local customs and wildlife. After a brisk 15-minute walk we were at the edge of an open field full of grazing zebra, impala, blesbok and of course, eland. They were still beyond 300 yards and we could not see all the bulls so decided to play the waiting game.
The waiting game is played best by those who can sit still, stand still and keep quiet. Those are utterly silly rules so James and I started discussing the merits of rainfall, world economics and the size of the bull on the far left. After an hour we knew we had to relocate so snuck up closer to the edge of the field while remaining well-concealed by the brush behind us. At one point we noticed three juvenile impala steadily grazing our way so we kept low and allowed them to walk past us at about 30 yards.
By now we could see clearly where the best bull was standing and after discussing the current political situation asked Tom to get ready as his bull was waiting for him. A ranged 242 yards Tom ripped the 180-grain projectile towards the eland. Holding the video camera still when zoomed in is rather tricky and as I was about to move from Tom’s left shoulder to his right shoulder the projectile struck home at slightly over 3 000 fps dropping the colossus with a perfect shot where he stood.
One aspect to remember is for the hunter to immediately re-chamber a round in case the spinal column was touched, momentarily stunning the animal. A number of animals have been lost resulting from such shots, but this time there was no reason the believe otherwise.
Two shots. Two animals. Great shooting thanks!
We woke up on a high from the previous day and were looking forward to another successful hunting day.
We were looking for blue wildebeest or red hartebeest. Preferably both and we knew about one that was quite territorial so headed out that way. He spotted us and darted off into the bush with us hot on his heels. Unfortunately, nothing happened and decided to head out to brunch.
After brunch we elected to sit at a waterhole trying for anything from caracal to hogs or more. The heat of the day proved too much for the animals and nothing showed any interest at drinking water.
The late afternoon yielded nothing.
During the early afternoon, we headed out to a property in the vicinity looking to hunt nyala. We met up with the local guide that took us to the property after a short drive on a deserted dirt road.
We met the friendly owner at his access gate and after some introductions were directed to the general vicinity where three bulls keep to themselves.
A walk up a steep incline had us rather breathless in the heat of the afternoon. A herd of kudu cows were spooked by our presence and a fleeting glimpse of their raised white tails was all we saw.
The heat was intense when the local guide suddenly stopped and slowly pointed to our left. The rolling hill sides looked ominous when I thought we were going to have to scamper up and down a few of them that afternoon.
With the sudden action, we all went down on our haunches trying to see what the guide was pointing at. James saw the nyala and wanted the bog pod shooting sticks in a hurry. Unfortunately, the sticks were set for a standing shot and had to be shortened to where they would fit Tom for a kneeling shot. This happened in a few seconds and the next thing we knew a shot rang out. The shot returned a positive impact sound and with hooves clicking on the many stones we soon heard the magnificent nyala crash.
Beyond the road and the close tree line, the veld opened to interspersed trees with large open areas. This helped in locating the nyala quick for a heated picture taking session. Lying down on the ground taking pictures during the heat of the day is an interesting experience. It is rather hot.
Another great 1-shot kill. Thanks Tom.
Up a half-hour earlier to seek the elusive hartebeest. We knew roughly where he was going to be and snuck up from a long distance away as the guide saw him in the road. Walking off to the side of the road we managed to get to within 50 yards from where he was last seen, but managed to return to the bush. Somewhat discouraged, we were caught off guard when he poked his head out from behind a bush looking somewhat more surprised than we were. His surprise lasted but a short time when he thought the better part of valor was to retreat with great haste. We did not see him after that.
James when up the mountain and soon called us on the radio to explain where he saw a herd of hartebeest. We were soon in position and a short while later noticed a small herd of hartebeest walking into a clearing. The initial scouting revealed a herd of cows and calves which we found rather discouraging, when in walked a bull.
It was our lucky day and his unlucky day. We were far away from him when he stopped to take care of some pressing business before walking along. I asked Willy to whistle which he did with gusto. Several whistles later the bull still paid us no attention so I yelled at him to stop. Which he did.
A single shot rang out and the bull ran like he was slapped on the derriere. The charge lasted for about 30 yards before we lost sight of him. We approached and started searching for any sign. My initial thoughts were that the impact shot sounded like a stomach shot and I was worried as blood would be in short supply. However, seemingly the reason why we lost sight of him was because he ran 30 yards and fell down. Willy reported from the skinning shed that when he gutted the animal pieces of heart fell out the carcass. The heart was completely obliterated from a staggering 456 yards away. The distance was ranged. This is the best shot I have ever witnessed on a hartebeest by anyone. The previous best was 416 yards – hey Barry!
Great relief as the hunting drought was broken. Between the hartebeest and brunch nothing much happened. Brunch was another success.
After the midday siesta, we headed to the mountains again. While we approached from the western side, James called on the radio to tell us of a loan blue wildebeest bull and pointed us in the correct direction. That sounded great as the wind was in our favor and everything was heading our way. James called again. This time the news was less exciting as there was a small herd of kudu cows and juvenile bulls alongside the wildebeest. This made things more interesting.
We snuck up to where we would be able to see the animals, and try as we may, we could not see a thing. Then I realized we were too low on the mountain and had to gain height to see above a tree line. Soon as we gained but a few paces we saw the wildebeest and planned accordingly. A stalk of about 10 minutes later and Tom was on the sticks for a shot of about 120 yards. Initially Tom could not see the Poor Man’s Buffalo, so we shifted a few feet to the left and Tom id’s the wildebeest. Talking him to where he could make out the outline, he said: Hold on, here goes. The next thing is we hear the shot and there is impact.
We gave the cursory 10-minute window and walked to where the old boy was resting up in the shade. We find lung blood and look forward to a short, uncomplicated tracking experience. While videotaping where the wildebeest stood, Willy starts laughing. He points to the obvious and says: he pooped when he was hit! Very true indeed as the evidence was clear to see.
Due to my brilliant tracking skills directed via the radio we soon find the heavy-set bull about 80 yards from where he was hit. After the picture taking session the recovery crew arrived, put the wildebeest on an old conveyor belt and held on for dear life.
The rest of the afternoon yielded nothing of note.
Early rise to depart for our next hunting property as we needed two more animals. A waterbuck and the antelope of Tom’s dreams.
Upon arrival, we were fed a delicious meal. The camp cook is a delightful young man with cooking skills to match. However, we were not there to only eat so we headed out to a neighboring property about 20 minutes down the road.
The tall property manager came along and soon we were lost on the property altogether. At least, those on the back of the truck were very lost. About an hour into the hunt Willy motioned us to stop. Tom and I got off and stalked the sable. We must clearly have been very noisy as the sable decided he had seen enough of us and decided to depart with more haste that we had hoped for. Soon we found him again standing quite still in the shade of a tree, hoping we did not see him. The 110 yards between us and the sable was not far enough for the sable as Tom let the shot ring out. The sable collapsed right where he stood. Six animals and six one-shot kills. Some of the best shooting I have seen in many years. There was an Aussie once who did six-for-six – hey Pete. Could Tom trump the 6-for-6?
Taking pictures of someone holding an animal he had been looking to hunt for so many years was just a pleasure. This is what makes my job great: seeing the appreciation of the hunter.
The afternoon was not done yet and we still had to get a waterbuck. So off we went back to where we were staying at. Roughly 45 minutes into the hunt we came across a small herd of waterbuck cows and juveniles with a bull be elected to pass up on.
About 15 minutes after that we came across two bulls of which we passed on the one. The other bull had our attention but due to the setting sun we needed to make some decisions fast. Tom was about to take a shot when the waterbuck moved off and we had to circle back, keeping the wind direction in consideration.
Making use of a small incline with horrendous rocks all around, we approached to within 100 yards. The bull was grazing with his head down when the shot rang out. The impact sounded wrong and he did not go down. We were well concealed and stayed put which allowed the waterbuck to settle down. Time was ticking and the sun was setting but still we waited. The bull sensed us and turned towards us while he offered the smallest of small openings for a frontal shot which Tom took under difficult conditions. Still the bad boy did not go down but moved a few feet to our left. We repositioned and Tom took him down.
Then things happened quickly as the sun was almost down and we still needed to take pictures. The time it would have taken to get back to the truck to retrieve my regular camera would have seen the sun set altogether by the time we got back to where the waterbuck was. The only other option was to use my cell phone.
That late in the day most farm hands had already knocked off for the day. Fortunately, two friendly guys were available with a tarp and some muscle. Four of us lifted the waterbuck and carried it for a few yards at a time till we reached the truck where we still had to get it on the back of the truck.
I think it was more to happiness than muscle that made it possible to lift the dead weight on to the Toyota Land Cruiser.
A cold beer was called for and enjoyed. What a hunt. What a hunter, thanks Tom.
Early to bed and late to rise before a delightful breakfast. On the agenda was a visit to the taxidermist and an early afternoon at the guest house. We managed to do both and discussed the things to do during the following couple days before departure.
A Pretoria city tour started off with a visit to the Union Buildings that houses the office of the President of the Republic of South Africa. A picture or two at the statue of Dr Nelson Mandela and a general layout of the downtown Pretoria city center saw us on the way to the Voortrekker Monument. A Voortrekker is the Afrikaans word for an early Pioneer and translates to he who draw from the front. Here the general history of the early Pioneers moving to the central parts of South Africa was presented followed by a view from the top of another angle of Pretoria.
From there we headed to the Sammy Marks Museum for a fantastic lunch at the Rose Garden Tea Garden. As if by unanimous decision we ordered dessert for lunch before joining a guided tour of the historic homestead.
After lunch the couple elected to go back to the guest house to repack for the flight back the following day. I also requested the night off for family responsibility which was gratefully granted.
At 6 am we were packed and ready and on our way to the Pilanesberg National Park. The 90-minute drive ended in a 20 minute longer drive when we discovered the sign at the KwaMaritane gate informed us of a road closure.
Not deterred we accessed the park via the Manyane Gate. This turned out to be a fantastic idea as one of the first animals we saw was a leopard. The cat decided that 5 minutes was enough time for us to look at him and moved into a bush. What a start to a great day.
Below are a few pictures of what we saw during the day before heading to the airport.
Thank you, Tom, for making this hunt happen it is most appreciated. Thank you, Carol, for being such a sport and trooper at times. We trust you recovered from the fall on the way to the sable!
Mkulu Hunting Safaris team.