SOUTH AFRICA: Kwalata Hunt Report
I was fortunate to return to South Africa in July and hunt Kwalata Wilderness, owned & operated by Reinhard Heusser and his wife Caroline. I'd had good references for the place and had tracked down PH Jaco Strauss there, whom I had hunted with in another area in 2010 on a successful plains game hunt.
Kwalata is mountain country, rocky and rises up in a terrace sort of fashion onto small plateau's. It carries a low scub vegetation of bushwillow and lead wood tree, interspersed with clearings to form a mosaic vegetation pattern.
Jaco was in his usual high spirits & keen to get out early the following day to hunt Zebra & Wildebeest, using a toyota for access and as a spotting platform.
Game was evident right from the start including impala & some kudu cows & we got up close on a big rhino before Joe our tracker spotted wildebeest. We put in a short stalk before the wind betrayed us & moved on until another herd of 15 or so animals were spotted including a couple of good bulls. They were moving steadily up a shallow gully toward it's head and although we narrowed the distance between us, the wind again moved around and alerted the herd enough that they trotted off through the gully head & over the ridge. Jaco reckoned we would get a crack at them in the afternoon and he & Joe had a fair idea where they would be located.
We were back out by mid afternoon & leaving the vehicle behind walked in to where Jaco & Joe thought the wildebeest from the morning might be. After about 300 metres Joe spotted movement about 130 metres ahead and we were on hands & kness the last 30 metres to get into a good shooting position. There were 2 good bulls looking straight at us as I got up onto the sticks, one partially hidden & the other stepping cautiously into the open & presenting a shot. He was facing on with his chin down a bit and I sighted on his chest just under his chin & squeezed off the shot. The 375 dropped him onto his knees and right side but he tried to get up straight away so I put a second shot into him near his spine which knocked him off his feet. He was partially obscured so I ran in a bit closer and put a third shot into his right shoulder and that finished him. All I'd heard about the toughness of wildebeest was true. He was a nice mature bull of about 27 inches and after Jaco called in the recovery crew by UHF, we headed off to the low country to look for bush pig in the early evening, lucking out by taking a good boar & a sow together.
Next day we went out for zebra and when we saw 2 stallions a couple of hundred metres decided to try for a shot. Jaco ranged them at 210 metres on the side of a hill. I got on the sticks but annoyingly, had trouble controlling my breathing which resulted in me placing the shot high over the stallions back, a clean miss.
Throughout the rest of the day we saw some good kudu, one that had to be 60" dissappearing over a hill & another that would have gone 58" but they were not on my list this trip. A buff bull presented in the afternoon but although Jaco reckoned he was an old bull he was small in size overall. We saw another 7-8 kudu in the afternoon but the zebra were elusive and we headed down to the riverine bush in the last hour of daylight to look for bushbuck. Jaco new an area that an old ram had been frequenting and as he hoped we caught him out feeding and I was able to get a shot at about 40 metres in behind his ribs as he headed away to cover. The 300 grn weldcore pushed up into his chest cavity but surprisingly did not exit. He was a lovely old ram with about 15" horns & good bases, with a light coloured coat and a darker band around his neck. I'd had to pass on bushbuck on my previous trip so was extremely pleased to get one that was at a good age & good condition.
Day 4 we went for buffalo. Jaco had had trackers out looking for buff for 2 days & in particular 2 bulls that had been seen running together in the higher hills & one of them was a shooter.
Poni, the senior tracker was already out in the area where the 2 bulls were thought to be and we went looking for activity on the opposite side of the hill to see if the bulls had moved out. It was about 2 hours later that we received word from Poni that he had glimpsed the bull & we had a mark to follow.
After meeting up, Poni and Joe started tracking this lone bull across rocky ground over the top of the mountain. We followed him down off the tops onto a plateau where the going was a bit easier and in short time Jaco advised that the bull had started trotting and was lkely on to us. He said straight up that he intended to push the bull hard through the day and with the temperature in the mid 20's (C) we might wear him down. Alternatively we might be after him for 2-3 days.
Poni & Joe followed the spoor at a good pace that I could never match & I was in awe at their skill as they tracked him through rocky & leaf littered ground. In the sandy areas where there were often marks of a dozen other animals they barely eased the pace. When they lost the spoor it was only briefly & we moved on with the bull alternatively trotting & walking, zig zaging & doing half circles & gradually turning back toward the hills where we'd started. The whole time, AJ Fourie another PH at Kwalata carried a large video camera to tape the hunt.
Jaco kept pushing the bull and in the first 50 metres back into rocky hills we found a spot or 2 of blood where he had likely gashed a leg on a rock.
We headed up & over the mount, and on the far side struck another plateau where the bull picked up a small sandy track & stuck to it. Jaco reckoned then the bull was definately getting tired & we might get up on him before the end of the day. The tracks went on for a few hundred metres and then turned back into the bush for 100 metres before coming onto the track again. We'd been on him for about 3+ hrs now & had covered over 4 K's when AJ spotted the bull whispering urgently "buffel, buffel, buffel" & indicating off to our right in the bush line. Poni set up the sticks in a flash with him and Jaco both saying "Com, com, com"....I moved onto the sticks as I sighted the bull through the scope & flicked off the safety. He was standing in shadow behind 2 trees with his legs hidden in the scrub and I couldn't pick up his shoulder. His right horn stood out slate grey against the blackness & he looked to be slightly quartering on but about to bolt off so I sighted on what I thought was his right shoulder & fired. The weldcore raised dust off his hide & he lunged forward, I reloaded with a solid but only in time to see his arse dissappear into the bush. This all happened in the space of a few seconds.
Jaco was saying "Now we wait a bit. We have a drink and give him 15 minutes or so then we'll go after him."
Then the adrenilan hit & there was much talking, AJ had somehow thought to flick on the video in the few seconds before the shot and caught it all on video. We laughed a bit too because Poni had stumbled back flat on his arse just as he set up the sticks.
After 20 minutes we headed into the bush, Joe with Jaco & me with Poni but all close. We followed the bull for 40 metres & found where he had turned around looking back for us before he went on. We found the first droplets of blood in the ankle high grass and leaf litter & followed on it slowly expecting to see the bull standing behind every bit of cover. It took us 40 minutes or so to cover about 250 metres when suddenly we came across him in a bit of a clearing down on his side. "There's your buff...down" said Jaco. I looked at the black mass that momentarily looked like a big burnt log.
There was no movement in the bull, no rise & fall of his chest or laboured breathing & he had blood around his nostrils. Jaco & I went cautiously forward and I saw an exit wound on his left side which surprised me. Jaco went around to the rear side of the bull while I stayed sighted on the bulls chest & he poked the bulls eye with his 375. He was quite dead. The woodleigh soft had entered just behind the right shoulder and passed through both lungs, exiting behind the left shoulder at a slight angle. Not my best shooting but it had killed him. He was a magnificent animal, in great condition with a good spread and horn shape and a great boss. He was an awesome sight to me and I was over the moon.
There was much handshaking and back slapping then, a bit of laughter as we relived it all & I even had a bit of solitude with my bull.
It had turned out a great tracking hunt in great company. We'd pushed the bull but Jaco & AJ were always encouraging & when the vehicle finally got in for the recovery, we all had a well earned beer to celebrate.
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