SOUTH AFRICA: GREAT first African hunt with Nico Smith of African Trophy Safaris at Amakulu lodge
Below are excerpts and pics from our excellent hunt with PH Nico Smith of African Trophy Safaris. We hunted out of Kimberley in the Northern Cape, and we stayed at Amakulu Safari Lodge, where John and Hettie Ekkenberg were our hosts. Keep in mind as you read this that we initially planned on a 10 animal each (9 species each) mixed bag hunt, all of which were going to be nontrophy/cull animals. In addition, we weren't planning on definitely sending anything home. However, once there, Nico was very flexible and as you can see, we quickly changed our minds!
A big thanks to all on this forum who provided advice over the last 18 months as I planned and prepared for this amazing trip. Also, a big thanks to Lori with Travel Express, who helped with my travel arrangements, and who was an invaluable resource for me!
South Africa plains game safari 2012
Thursday, May 17, 2012: Trip Day 1
My hunting partner and his wife picked me up at the house at noon, and after loading up my gear, and a goodbye hug and kiss for me from my wife, we were off for the one hour drive to the airport in Savannah. After being dropped off at the airport, check-in at Hilton Head/Savannah International was not too stressful despite the Delta desk agent speaking little to no English and seeming like it was his first day. He asked if the guns were unloaded but never made us take them out. Then, after my hunting partner was done and had walked off, the guy said "uh oh I think I messed up!" He then printed out entirely new tags for his luggage and made another person track them down and change them out! My checked rolling suitcase weighed 47 lbs, and my gun case was right at 35lbs, so I was good to go. Our Savannah to Atlanta flight left on time, and we arrived in Atlanta and made our way to the new international terminal for our flight to Johannesburg with no difficulty.
The flight to Jo'burg really was not as bad as I had anticipated, and I think the Delta economy comfort seats were worth it, even if only for the extra leg room. The international terminal in Atlanta is very nice, but the fueling system was running slow and we had an almost 1.5hr delay before liftoff. There was some turbulence early in the flight but afterwards it was smooth. My Red Oxx Safari Beanos PR5.0 carry-on and my small shoulder bag both fit into the overhead bin easily. The seats were advertised as having USB ports, but they did not have any that I could find. Food on the flight was terrible, but I did sleep about six hours after taking 5mg of Ambien with no adverse effects. I woke up about 2 hours out of Jo'burg, and was good to go.
Friday, May 18, 2012: Trip Day 2
By the time we landed in Johannesburg it was about 6:45 pm Friday local time, for a total flight time of about 15.5 hrs. Watching Season One of Castle on my iPad made the flight go by pretty fast. We collected all our luggage with no problems thankfully, and Henry Durrheim and his wife with Rifle Permits - In Support of Conservation Through Hunting helped us clear the firearms at Tambo OR without a hitch. While we were waiting on the driver from Africa Sky Guest House to pick us up, I went to the Vodacom shop to get the sim card for my phone. Not surprisingly, Alltel (my local carrier) was full of you know what when they told me before I left that my phone was not locked, because when we put the sim in the first thing that happened was that we were prompted to put in the unlock code. I decided to just rent a phone, but that meant no data service, so oh well. Our driver arrived shortly thereafter and took us to Africa Sky, where we had an excellent meal of butternut squash soup, chicken snitzel, and vegetables. My room was very nice, and after a shower I slept like a rock. I did figure out that the international adapter that comes with the kits you can buy does not work in South Africa without using a big three prong adapter that you plug first into the outlet, then you plug the little one from the kit into that one! See pics below of views of Africa Sky Guest House:
Attachment 11659 Attachment 11660
Saturday, May 19, 2012: Trip Day 3
After a great breakfast at Africa Sky, Godfrey then took us back to the airport at 10:30 for our 1:10 flight to Kimberley. Thank God he stayed with us, because we had to: 1) remove our locked ammo from our checked luggage and check it as a separate bag, 2) pay baggage overage fees because South Africa Express limits total checked luggage to 40kg (which for me was about $65), 3) then show our SAPS520 and gun and ammo again, before clearing security and going to the gate for our flight. We would have been clueless without Godfrey, and I tipped him $20.
The flight to Kimberly was less than an hour, and you could see the Big Hole mine flying in. The plane was tiny but it was a jet at least. My Beanos carry-on fit under the seat in front of me, and my shoulder bag fit into the overhead bin. We arrived in Kimberley at 2:30, and our PH, Nico and his helper Pietras was there to meet us. We had to again show our gun form and some guy then checked serial numbers, and somehow we ended up paying him $30 "tax" each for that! Thankfully though, all of our luggage, guns, and ammo made it to our final destination. Now we were then off in Nico's 4-door Toyota Hilux with a small trailer to Amakulu Lodge, which was about a 30-40 minute drive southwest out of Kimberley.
To get to the lodge, which had a nice gate and sign marked by an American, Dutch, South African, and Spanish flag, we turned off, after about ten miles on a washboard gravel road, onto a small dirt road at the gate on the right and drove about 3 miles into the property. On the way in we saw several species of plains game, including warthog, gemsbok, and steenbuck! Upon arrival, we were shown to our room, which was somewhat upscale, comfortable, clean, and with an African flair. Seeing the staff interact, I could tell right away we were in a "good camp," and not a sour one. After having about an hour to unpack and get settled, we headed with Nico to the range to "sight in our guns," aka "for Nico to see if we could shoot." My hunting partner took several shots and made a rightward adjustment of four clicks. Then, after a cold barrel flyer, I put a three shot one inch group at 100 yards about 1.5inches high and one inch left. I made a one inch adjustment right, and was good to go. On the way back in to the camp, we saw several more species, including several nice sable, several beautiful kudu bulls, and even nyala! It was then time for a delicious supper of elan stakes on the braai. At supper, we met the other group here, which consisted of 6 guys participating in a PH school John was hosting, being taught by an older gentleman, Corbliss (?sp), who used to be the head of the nature conservancy department in RSA. After supper, it was off to bed to rest up for a 5:30 wake up and breakfast at 6:15. See pics below of Amakulu camp:
Attachment 11661 Attachment 11662
Attachment 11663 Attachment 11664 Attachment 11665 Attachment 11666
Sunday, May 20, 2012. Trip day 4, Hunt day 1:
After a sound sleep, we met Sunday morning at 6:30 for a light breakfast of cereal and toast, which is more than I usually eat in the mornings. It was a cold morning, with their first frost of the year on the ground. We then headed out on the truck for our first hunt with Nico, Rowan ( a young 22 yo ph who is John's stepson), and our tracker/skinner Pietras. The property we headed to, named Fairydale, was only about half a mile down the main gravel road, but when we turned into it we drove in at least 3 miles. We saw zebra on the way in. We somehow decided that I would take the first animal, and after spotting some impala, we stopped and headed out on foot after our first quarry of the trip. After an exciting stalk through the South African savannah bushveld, Nico set up his sticks low to the ground, and I took a kneeling shot, resting my rifle on the sticks and my right elbow on his shoulder, at a cull impala female about 100 yards out positioned facing to my left and standing broadside behind a forked tree. To say I was nervous was an understatement, but I steadied myself and gently squeezed the trigger on my Browning X-Bolt .300 win mag stainless hunter with black composite stock, outfitted with a matte black leupold VX-II 3-9x40 scope with long range duplex reticle and Vias brake. The left leg of the sticks slipped after the shot, but it still felt true despite me not being able to see the impala immediately after. Nico said it looked good, and off we went. Sure enough, it was a perfectly placed shot and she had run only about 30 yards from where my 180 grain Federal Vital-Shok Nosler Partition had connected just above the top of the left front leg. I was exhilarated, mainly because I had taken her humanely and respectfully. It was then time for pictures, professionally posed by Nico, and soon after we were off to see what we could find for my hunting partner!
After driving a while through rough roads cut through the bush, and having seen multiple species, we spotted a group of red hartebeest several hundred yards off at the top of a small rise. Off we went for my buddy's stalk, which was a classic that lead us through the muted olive, tan, and gray colors of the bushveld. We lost them at a rocky rise, and after a quiet climb up the rust-red color, boulder-strewn hillside, we made it to the crest and spotted the hartebeest group, which had made its way down to the flats below. He then made a nice downhill shot on a hartebeest around 120 yards out, after kneeling down and resting his rifle on a rock. The animal was starting to move from left to right when he let the bullet fly from his .300 Weatherby Magnum Mark V with wood stock, equipped with a Trijicon tritium green dot reticle 5-20x50 scope and Vias brake. The loud thwack of the Nosler Partition, hand loaded by Joe Collier of Collier Rifles (Welcome To CollierRifles.com) hitting home was heard, and we were then off to find the beautiful creature, as it had run a bit. We found it about 100 yards from where it was standing when the bullet had hit its mark, and then it was picture time. We then set out in search of either a blue wildebeest or kudu cow for me, but they did not cooperate, so we headed back to camp, arriving right at 11 for a delicious brunch.
After brunch, we immediately headed back to the same 5000 acre tract. Initially, we were looking for the blue wildebeest or kudu cow. After a stalk expecting those, we hiked a steep rocky rise when Rowan signaled us to get low. We crept up, and there was a group of impala in the flats below, and my hunting partner made another nice downhill shot while resting his rifle on the rocks to take an impala. After tracking her about 200 yards from her initial position, I spotted her lying peacefully under a small bush. Then it was pictures again for Troy, and off for more animals. Considering that both of his shots today were well placed, I began at that point to have an understanding of how tough the animals on this continent are.
We spent the rest of the afternoon in search of the elusive kudu and blue wildebeest. Despite several stalks, including an exciting one up another rocky hillside, we could never get in position for me to take a shot. We saw gemsbok, warthog, jackal, blesbuck, nyala, sable, zebra, giraffe, kudu, steenbuck, duiker, mountain reedbuck, springbok, and wildebeest today. Oh, and I almost forgot--fresh rhino dung and track in a very bushy area, necessitating a rapid retreat! By five it was starting to get dark and colder, so we decided to call it the end to a very successful day and headed back to camp. After a welcome at the gate with a warm towel and a sherry, we showered and headed to supper. Following a delicious biltong appetizer served in a stroganoff style, we had perfectly seasoned grilled lamb chops, South Africa痴 version of grits with stewed tomatoes, and bread. After some friendly conversation, it was time to head back and get ready for bed and for another exciting day. I have decided to go after a trophy springbok, and my hunting partner has decided for a trophy kudu, so we shall see how it goes.
Monday, May 21, 2012. Trip day 5, Hunt day #2:
After a good night's rest, and then breakfast, we headed out with Nico and Pietras for our second day of hunting. Today, we would be hunting on John's property where the lodge is located, and I let Nico know that I had decided to go after a trophy springbok, rather than a cull, at some point during the trip. Nico then said that today we would be after a red hartebeest for me, and blesbuck and springbok for both my buddy and me. After a short drive, we spotted a herd of hartebeest, and after stopping the truck, we were off on foot for another classic stalk through the beautiful South African terrain. After creeping and crawling through the bush and Mars-like soil, I took a shot at a hartebeest from the sticks while standing, and the pagan-appearing beast with the thick rear-facing horns fell after a very short run. After a brief pause, we noted that although it was not going anywhere, its head was still up so I placed one more shot and it was done. After a closer look, my first shot was just about two inches forward of the vitals zone, and had busted through the shoulder. We found a small exit wound just forward of the opposite shoulder, with some bullet fragments in it, so I am thinking that the bullet failed after hitting the bone. Pietras then arrived with the truck, and after another excellent picture session, we were off again.
We drove way back into the property, and found a group of springbok grazing in a flat area about 1000 yards or more away. Nico decided that we should get out and set up prone behind a small rise, and see if they would work their way toward us while feeding. A while later, a group of hartebeest, gemsbuck, and eland came from left to right, and in doing so they pushed a group of springbok up out of a small gulley about 350 yards away. Slowly but surely, they made their way in our direction, allowing my hunting partner to make a 240yard drop shot on the one to the far right. It fell in its tracks, causing the one next to it to leap at least 6 feet straight into the air! Nico quickly motioned for me to roll over in my buddy's spot and position myself for a shot to my left on a trophy springbok ram. The shot was a little over 250 yards out and Nico and I rushed it a little from my completely prone position. Thankfully I missed it clean and off it went like a rocket to my left! We then headed out to collect Troy's harvest and for some pictures. By then, it was time for lunch so we headed back to camp, where we had a delicious lunch of game burgers with fried eggs and fries.
Following lunch, Nico said that in the afternoon we would go after springbok and blesbuck. We walked out of camp, directly up a steep rocky slope so that we could glass the flats on the opposite side. After glassing for a while, Nico indicated that there was a springbok ram about 250 yards out in the flats. Using a large rock as a rest, from a kneeling position I made a steep declining shot on the trophy ram. It was hit but did not fall immediately, so I then fired another and the job was finished. We then walked higher up the rise so that we could glass the area for blesbuck. The view was breathtaking, and the horizon was miles away. We saw numerous species from there, but no blesbuck, so we then headed down to inspect my trophy. My first shot was just behind the shoulder, and the second was right at the base of the neck. After some pictures with the beautiful animal, we loaded up and then headed out for blesbuck. I have decided on a shoulder mount for the springbuck ram, and I have just the right spot in mind in my study!
After a long while of driving and glassing (and after climbing another steep rocky slope), we had begun to think that we would see no blesbuck today. Then, around four o'clock, we rounded a curve and came up on a large group of springbok and blesbuck feeding together in the veld. We left the truck for another exciting stalk, again involving stooping and hands and knees crawling, using acacia bushes as cover. My hunting partner then fired off the sticks from a kneeling position on a blesbuck about 120 yards out, and she was down. The group was still there though, so we sat tight to see if I could get a shot. We had two white springbok come with 40 yards of us, but the wind was not in our favor and after a while they caught our scent and herds began to head out. Despite an almost 100 yard butt crawl, we never got a shot and they were gone. We then set out to find the one my buddy had shot. He was walking ahead, and saw the animal stand and begin to walk away. He fired one shot and she was down, ending another fantastic day of hunting. After pictures were done, we were heading in and intersected the herd as they were going around a rock strewn hill. We got out quickly to see if we could catch them, but after a brief stalk up the rocks, they were gone again. At that point, we decided to call it a day.
We then headed back to camp for a delicious dinner of grilled steaks, accompanied by wonderful stories of African hunting highlights told by our hosts and other guests.
Tuesday, May 22, 2012. Trip day 6, Hunt day 3:
We headed out to a different tract today, which was about 35 minutes away. Today we were after blue wildebeest and blesbuck. This tract was huge, at around 10,000 acres, and the terrain was nicely varied with hardpan flats, bushveld, and rocky hills. I had the shot on the first stalk after a group of wildebeest. I took a difficult shot lying on my belly and propped up on my elbows without a rest at a wildebeest about 120 yards away. Its neck and head were behind a tree and its left front shoulder was barely visible, and there were some bushes in front. I took the shot, but we all felt it was a clean miss. A Harris bipod would have been very helpful for that kind of shot. We spent almost an hour searching the area for any sign of a hit, and following a thorough looking-over by Pietras, Nico declared it clean (lesson here: if I am not 100% confident about the shot, I don't take it). We then set out on foot to see if we could track the same group, but we lost them in some rocks. Soon after, following a short drive followed by another stalk for a good position, my hunting partner took a shot from the sticks while kneeling at another blue wildebeest about 150 yards out. We found the animal almost 120 yards away from where it was shot, despite perfect bullet placement. I now know why they call them the poor man's buffalo--they are tough! After another short ride, we found another group with an old female off to the right side. Nico set me up with the sticks down low under a tree, and I was able to prop my right elbow on the tree, resulting in a perfectly placed 200+ yard shot to its right front shoulder. It ran about 50 yards and dropped, perfectly posed for another picture. The hide on the blue wildebeest is truly a work of art, deep chocolate with faint, broad wavy stripes with a gray-blue sheen to them. We then loaded up and headed back to camp for a late lunch, as it was about 2 by the time we ate.
Following lunch, we headed back out, this time to some of John's land. We would be looking for warthog, blesbuck, and a trophy gemsbuck for my buddy. While stalking a group of gemsbuck in search of a good bull, we came across a group of blesbuck. I took a 100 yard shot from the sticks, kneeling and using Nico's right shoulder for support. The animal fell instantly. We then tried a stalk for gemsbuck, but never came across a good specimen. By then it was approaching dark, so we decided to call it a day.
We had another delicious supper, and tonight it consisted of prawn appetizer, followed by cubed 駘an steak and a delicious corn stuffed pumpkin. Tonight another representative from nature conservancy, Hanas (?sp), joined the group at supper, and it was fascinating listening to the stories he and Corbliss had to tell of their cumulative 60-plus years of adventures while hunting across Africa. Also, it was very educational to get to hear their views regarding the importance of hunters and hunting in wildlife conservation. Tomorrow we start earlier, with breakfast at 5:30, as we will be after a trophy kudu and some warthog at a property over one hour north of Kimberley.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012. Trip day 7, Hunt day 4:
Today we were up at 5 and on the road by 5:30 to hunt a property called Kolobe Farm (kolobe = warthog) a little over one hour away and north of Kimberly. Interestingly, this 20,000 acre tract is owned by the family that owns the majority of UPS. We were after warthog and a trophy kudu for Troy, and we had a pretty hard day. Despite seeing 16 kudu bulls, only two were decent size, and we never had a good set up for my buddy to take a shot. We went up and down at least 4 rocky hills/mountains, and amazingly none of us managed to bust up our knees or ankles. We were finally able to make a stalk on one just before dark, but he never was able to get off a shot as the bull just was not cooperating. Earlier, on another rocky hilltop, he did made a nice shot on a warthog from the sticks while kneeling. I had a chance at one while up on another rocky hill, but I had trouble finding him in the scope as he was moving and he slipped away. Later on, we saw another old warthog with monster tusks, but even though this time I was set up for the shot, he never stopped.
We stayed on this property the entire day in search of our game, but the one warthog was all we wound up with. We ate a packed lunch of some kind if cheese and meat sandwich, a Cadbury lunch bar that was basically a wafer surrounded by peanuts and chocolate, and a banana. Even though we only got the warthog, we again saw tons of other animals, including a group of giraffe with a young one, and several waterbuck. We returned to camp around 7:30 to find steaks, mashed potatoes, and green peas waiting for us. My belly is full once again, and soon I will be down for the night. Tomorrow, we are going after gemsbuck for both of us, and warthog for me. It is hard to believe that our hunt is now past the halfway point.
Attachment 11645 Attachment 11646
Thursday, May 24, 2013. Trip day 8, Hunt day 5:
We were up today at 6 for breakfast at 6:30, and then out for gemsbuck (cull for me, trophy for my partner), warthog, and black wildebeest in the afternoon. Today we hunted a large 20,000 acre tract adjacent to John's property, which is owned by a retired cardiothoracic surgeon from Johannesburg named Pete Vintner. We did a lot of walking this morning in search of the elusive gemsbuck, as my buddy was after a trophy bull. We saw one warthog that did not cooperate for a shot, and then finally after walking through the bush for about 8 miles, we spotted a group of gemsbuck feeding and relaxing about 800 yards away. To say that these beautiful animals are skittish is an understatement, as several other groups had eluded us earlier this morning. We slowly began our stalk, the last 150 yards of which consisted of belly crawls, butt crawls, and hands and knees crawls through, around, under the bush. Amazingly, since the group was just over a small rise, we got downwind of them and were within just under 100 yards before they started to act a little nervous. I was in the rear not expecting to shoot, but after studying them for some time Nico motioned for me to come up. I quickly ascertained that he wanted me to take the one farthest to the left, so I made a perfectly placed chest shot off the sticks from my knees while it was facing me directly head-on at about 90 yards. It collapsed instantly and I excitedly, but cautiously, made my way up. Though not considered a "trophy," it was a beautiful animal whose image instantly evokes thoughts of Africa for me, and I knew immediately that these horns would be going up in the study at home. After pictures, Pietras made quick work of the skinning, and we even recovered the Nosler Partition bullet intact and perfectly expanded inside the body cavity. What an exciting end to a long morning of stalking!
Attachment 11647 Attachment 11648
After returning to camp for a quick lunch and a brief break, we headed out to the same large tract, this time for black wildebeest. And, while both my hunting partner and I made great shots to bag these impressive animals from over 200 yards out, what is more impressive is how though these things are. Despite perfectly placed shots on each, his ran over 400 yards and mine ran almost 200 yards before expiring. After finishing up with the pictures, Rowan and Nico said they had a treat for us, so we set off over the property with us sitting up back on the viewing seats. After riding a couple of miles, we rounded a curve in the bushveld, and there we saw them: a rhino cow with her one day-old beautiful calf trundling along behind and underneath her! It was literally breathtaking, and if that was not enough, a little further on down we came across another cow with her calf, just a little older than the first. But following shortly behind was the real show-stopper, a mature rhino bull! This thing weighed at least 2 tons, and had a 34" horn! When it turned and looked at us, my heart skipped a beat. If all we had seen this entire trip were those rhinos, the trip would have been worth it.
Attachment 11649 Attachment 11650 Attachment 11651 Attachment 11652
By then the end of the afternoon was approaching, so we began to make our way back through the property. Along the way we came across the landowner, Pete, and his farmhand working on a water tank for his cattle, and had a very nice conversation with him. Probably in his mid to late seventies, dressed in vellies and dirt-stained farm clothes, one never would know that he was a wealthy, retired heart surgeon--and I mean that as a high compliment. A very nice man, it was obvious that he was very proud of his rhinos, but he did offer to sell us the bull at a bargain price of 1.5 million US! After thanking him for allowing us to be on his land, we began to head back. Then, just at dusk while we were riding through the property, we heard Rowan and Pietras yell "vflackfark (?sp)," which is Afrikaans for warthog. Nico stopped and I could immediately see the large white tusks about 60 yards ahead, even in the fading light of dusk. I quickly jumped out, loaded, and made good use of Nico's left shoulder as a brace to help make a perfectly placed shoulder shot through the brush, dropping the old beast instantly. Although it did not necessarily involve much of a stalk, that shot was perhaps my most satisfying and exciting one yet, as the warthog had eluded me for the three previous days. And, having that gnarly looking thing staring at me face to face at dusk really got the adrenaline pumping! Once we got close, I was congratulated all around for bagging a trophy warthog, as it had very nice tusks and the animal was quite large. We made quick work of the photo session in the fading light, enjoyed the sunset, and then were off to camp for another delicious meal. In addition to the gemsbuck horns, I will get the warthog tusks mounted as well. Tomorrow, we will be heading to Nico's brother in law's farm, where Nico and his family live, in search of my buddy's trophy kudu.
Friday, May 25, 2012. Trip day 9, Hunt day 6:
We were up early today at 5, for breakfast at 5:30, before departing at 6 for Nico's farm about 80 minutes away and north of the farm we had been to on Wednesday. After arriving, we picked up young 14 year-old Nico Jr. to help with the hunt. We first climbed a rocky escarpment and glassed the area, while also sending Pietras scouting in the truck. After a while, Pietras radioed to say that he had spotted a kudu bull further into the bush, so we made our way down and began the stalk and tracking. After tracking through the bush for almost three hours, we had two brief glimpses of the bull, but could never get a good view due to the thick cover. During the stalk, we also saw impala, copper springbuck, nyala, steenbuck, duiker, sable, and blesbuck. It was rapidly approaching lunchtime, so we decided to call it a morning and headed up to the house, where we were met by Nico's wife and daughter. We had a wonderful rest sitting around the firepit in back of the house, and they soon brought out venison sausages, mountain reedbuck steaks, and tomato and cheese sandwiches to grill over the open flame, or braai. We then ate a delicious meal of the above, plus sweet corn casserole, inside the house at their dinner table, and the experience was one of the highlights of the trip for me. After lunch, we made time for some pictures with the family. Then despite us all agreeing that a nap would be great, we headed right back out for the kudu.
By this time it was after two, so we climbed up another steep rocky hilltop to glass the bush below in search of the kudu bull. After about an hour, Nico motioned that he had spotted a group of five kudu about a mile in the distance, but they were headed our way. We decided to wait and watch, and slowly they began to close the distance. Soon we realized that this group had a nice bull in it. Over about an almost forty minute period, the group of kudu continued to meander our way. By about 4:30, the big bull had made it to within about 300 yards. He carefully positioned himself for a kneeling shot using a large rock as a rest, and with Nico's coaching he sent a 300 yard downhill shot on the way. After running about 30 yards the big bull collapsed, and it was done. Accounting for a stiff right to left wind, and distance and decline angle, he indicated that he lined his crosshairs 3 inches high and 6 inches right of the target. When we got to the bull, we saw that the placement was perfect, with the entry at just above the top of the left leg. It was a very old bull per Nico, and it had begun to pass its prime, as evidenced by a partially broken tip on one horn. Nico estimated it to weigh upwards of 420 lbs, and after helping load it I can believe it. Although not a "monster kudu," the old bull has character and will be beautiful hanging in my buddy's office, with the memory of a great hunt and great shot to go with it.
After enjoying another remarkable African sunset from Nico's front yard, followed by a round of goodbyes to the family, we loaded up for the hour- plus ride back home, arriving just in time for supper at 7:30. I am again stuffed after another wonderful meal, and I can hardly believe that tomorrow is our last day of hunting. We again will be after a trophy gemsbuck for my hunting partner and a kudu cow for me (unless I come across something else first, like a duiker or steenbuck perhaps).
Saturday, May 26, 2012. Trip day 10, Hunt day 7:
It is hard to believe that today is our last hunting day. We were up at six this morning for breakfast at 6:30, and after a good night's sleep I told Nico I would like to go after a trophy steenbuck or duiker rather than culling a kudu cow, and he seemed very pleased with that proposition. Over the course of the hunt, I have seen several yearling species still suckling, so I just did not feel comfortable taking a cow, and Nico agreed. Following breakfast, my hunting partner, Nico, Pietras, and I headed out into the bush in search of a trophy gemsbuck for my buddy and duiker or steenbuck for me. We set out on foot right at 7, and Nico immediately began tracking a group of gemsbuck that we had yet to see. We stalked them for over an hour, coming to a rocky hill. After we made the climb, they were visible about 400 yards in the flats below. We waited for some time to see if the trophy would set itself up for my buddy to make a decent try, but after a while the group moved out of range and were then gone. We glassed from there for some time, spotting several species in the areas below, including a group of five absolutely gorgeous waterbuck. With their coloration, body shape, and full necks, they look like a cross between a whitetail and mule deer.
After spotting a large group of gemsbuck far in the distance, we began to make our way carefully down the rock-strewn face of the hill opposite from where we had come up. Once at the bottom, Pietras came with the truck and we drove a short ways to position ourselves for another stalk, this time going after the group we had glassed in the distance. We then set out through the bush on foot, walking quietly, with the wind in our favor, in the direction of the gemsbuck herd over a mile away. After walking several hundred yards, Nico quietly stopped and motioned for me to step forward. He had spotted a duiker about 60 yards up, and I found it immediately. Because of its small body mass, he indicated he wanted me to make my shot a little farther back than usual, behind the shoulder in this case, in order to preserve the shoulder and cape for mounting. I propped my rifle on his left shoulder, and while stooping somewhat awkwardly due to the uneven terrain, I steadied myself as best I could and squeezed the trigger. My bullet hit its mark, and after a few seconds the duiker was down almost exactly where he had been standing when shot. Because their narrow, short dagger-like horns can be dangerous, Nico motioned for me to stay put while he quickly finished up the business if necessary with his knife. He then congratulated me on a nice trophy, as its horns we're a little over 4 inches. We then made a round if pictures, and were off again in search of a trophy gemsbuck.
Again we set out on foot, heading in the direction we had been going before coming upon the duiker. Although we were expecting a long trek, after walking only about 200 yards Nico quietly stopped and peered through his Meopta binoculars. He then motioned for us to lie flat, and soon we were off on another exciting hands and knees stalk! After quietly crawling over the red African dirt for about 50 yards, using acacia bushes for cover, Nico placed the sticks low and motioned for troy to get into position. From my view, I could see a solitary gemsbuck about 200 yards up, feeding in a small grassy clearing in front of some scrub. My buddy kneeled down, placed his rifle on the sticks, supported his right elbow on Nico's shoulder, and then let his shot fly. Soon after the report of rifle, I could distinctly hear the bullet hit its mark. After allowing a few minutes to let the gemsbuck settle, we then approached the trophy, a very nice, mature female near the end of her prime, with long horns with thick bases. Nico congratulated him on a nice trophy, indicating to us that she was probably 10 years old at least, and would soon have begun to fail had we not taken her. Indeed, her teeth were worn almost completely down. He had made another excellent shot, with the bullet hitting just above the top of the front leg and penetrating the heart. The bullet did not exit, but it could be felt just under the skin overlying the opposite shoulder. We then had another round of pictures, and it soon hit us that we had made our last two shots of our South African plains game safari within 30 minutes and 300 yards of each other! We both commented, somewhat sadly, that we could not believe the hunting portion of our trip was over. Although the time flew by while we were hunting, it seems like it was an eternity since I took the impala on our first morning out.
We then loaded up the truck and headed back to camp, arriving right in time for brunch. I will try to get the duiker done in a full body mount, and will have the springbuck shoulder mounted. I am going to get just the horns of the gemsbuck done, and the mandible and maxilla with tusks of the warthog. In addition, I think I will get the hartebeest, blesbuck, impala, and blue wildebeest skins tanned. I may also get one of the wildebeest, blue or black, horns done, as well as maybe the hartebeest horns. My buddy is getting shoulder mounts of the kudu and gemsbuck, and the horns of all of the others, plus the skins. So much for my "no taxidermy, just pictures" plan!
After a brief ride through the property for animal photos around 4:30, we headed back for another marvelous meal, this time of fish and chips with some vegetables and rice. I am now in the bed and mostly packed, but I am already planning my next African hunting trip in my head.
Sunday, May 27, 2012. Trip day 11, Return trip:
We were able to sleep in a little later today, and then we met Nico to go over the details of the bill. After breakfast, he drove us over to the skinning shed so we could inspect our trophies. They really were impressive all lined up together, and we took some photos there before saying goodbye to John and Hettie and thanking them for their hospitality at Amakulu camp.
We then settled up with Nico, and my balance due for the hunt was exactly what I expected. Considering I ended up with 3 trophy animals (springbok, duiker, warthog), and once the credit was applied for the nontrophies those replaced that were included in the initial package, my total came to only $250 more than the initial package price. In addition to a cash tip for Nico, I left him several items: my small hydration backpack for him to give to little Nico, my almost- 4 boxes of remaining ammo plus my ammo box, a hat, my soft side gun case, my knee pads (which I never used), and the beaded bracelets and necklaces that my son's Sunday School class made for his daughter. I tipped Pietras directly with cash and a skinning knive, and I gave John a tip to distribute to his camp staff.
We then loaded up and headed into Kimberley for our departing flight. Since we had a little time to kill, Nico took us to the Big Hole site where we took the tour and were able to buy some souvenirs, and then we were off to the airport. We again each had to pay $30 "tax" to clear our guns through to Jo'burg. I ended up sitting next to Eugene on the flight, which was nice because he was able to point out some interesting sites on the landscape below. Once in Jo'burg, the airport was a little confusing, but eventually we again got our firearms cleared and found our gate. Our plane boarded on time, but we again had an unexpected delay of about 2 hours before finally taking off. We have now been in the air for about three hours, and are due to arrive in Atlanta a little after 7 am.
Monday, Trip day 12: Home arrival day
I am not quite sure how we handle our guns and other bags in Atlanta, but I guess we will soon find out, as we are now about 2 1/2 hours out from Atlanta.
Well, we managed to get into Atlanta a little after seven am and cleared customs and our bags and guns with no problems. The new international terminal is very nice, everything was well organized, and there were plenty of staff available to direct us where to go. We collected our checked bags and guns, and then re-cleared them with the agents and rechecked them. We also had to get our boots sprayed with Vircon (?sp) for foot and mouth disease. We made our way to our departing gate with no difficulties. Our flight to Savannah was on time and we got into the airport there just before noon. All of our bags made it, and we simply just had to pick up our checked bags and the guns off the luggage carousel. I was home by one. I seem a little more tired following the return flight as compared to the one over, and I am sure I will sleep like a rock tonight.
Our first African adventure is over, but we are already planning our next one: Zimbabwe 2014!
camp accommodations: excellent
camp staff: excellent
hunting experience: excellent
amount, quality, variety of animals: excellent
any unpleasant suprises related to hunt, bill, etc: none
flight (Delta): fair to good (delays on both ATL-JNB and JNB-ATL legs, food poor, economy comfort seats were good)
flight (South Africa Express): good (did have a suprise overage fee)
gun choice: .300 win mag browing xbolt, very pleased with how it performed; especially like having a removable magazine
load/bullet choice: federal vital shok 180gr nosler partitions, pleased (one questionable failure going through shoulder bone and fragmenting)
scope choice: leupold VXII 3-9x40 with long range duplex reticle, pleased but on shots beyond 200 yards, for me a higher power may be helpful
boots: Irish Setter SoftPaw chukkas, model without waterproof membrane, very pleased; softer sole may help with stalking, especially on rocks