BOTSWANA: Kanana Safaris Adventure 2012
Most guys wait a year or two after booking their Safari to finally go hunting but in my case, everything materialized so quickly that I hardly had the time to prepare before it was time to get on with it. If you count the days between the time that I discovered the great opportunity offered by Kanana to my actually arriving in camp there it is quite shocking just how quickly it all took place. I would like to say a earnest Thank You to all of the people who helped me to make this awesome adventure work out so smoothly, turning a dream into reality. Without your help this great experience would still be just another one of those on my bucket list.
I was greeted at the airport by PH Jason Bridger and his lovely wife Claire, my host and hostess for the next couple of weeks in this African wonderland. After checking into our rooms at the Roof of Africa in Windhoek, Namibia we had a great dinner of wild game at the famous and interesting Joes Beer House. The next day we made the scenic drive into Botswana as I soaked in the atmosphere that is Africa.
I arrived in camp at Kanana Safaris very excited to be hunting in the heart of the Kalahari Desert in Botswana, Africa. With 10 full days set aside for hunting, I was hopeful of making good on my 10 animal list which included Eland, Kudu, Gemsbok, Zebra, Blue Wildebeest, Red Hartebeest, Impala, Warthog, Waterbuck and Giraffe. Looking back, I had little idea of just how much fun and adventure I was in for!
After a good nights rest at the comfortable Motswiri Lodge, my first morning of Safari began with the selection and shooting of rifles to be used on the hunt. Due to a long and satisfying history with the good old 30.06 caliber, and the fact that Jason had a sweet handling custom rifle built on a CZ 602 action chambered in the caliber and topped by a Schmidt & Bender fixed 6 x 42 scope, my choice was easy. I fed it a steady supply of Norma 180 grain Oryx ammo which it consistently put exactly where it needed to. This combination did everything asked of it during my hunt and we were very impressed by its performance. My Jackal and small game weapon consisted of a Styer Manlicher .223 with a Leupold 3-9x40 VXII spittin out 55 grain soft points. Time to go huntin!
With trackers/skinners Zimbabwean Morlen & Bushman Happy helping Jason & me to look for game and sign as we set out across the Kalahari, we had hardly gotten started riding and looking from the Landcruiser when I got my first lesson in adapting to the situation while hunting in Africa A nice Steenbok showed himself to us and after quick deliberation I elected to add him to the list so we went after him. Uncertain if I wanted him at first, I received all the right answers from Jason & Morlen and was glad that I decided to take the little fellow. My first kill in Africa was a very welcomed bonus!
After dropping Morlen off at the skinning shed to take care of my Steenbok, William drove us out to a spot where we left the truck to sneak up on a waterhole. With a herd of Blue Wildebeest keeping us low and slow in our approach, we eventually crawled up to an area from which to view the game at the water supply. I inadvertently allowed Jason to get a few yards away from me as I glassed from my hiding spot sitting in the sand behind some brush. After a few minutes of silent glassing, he turned to me and said, What are you waiting for? Get over here. I quickly crawled to where he was to see what he had in mind for me. A beautiful Impala that I couldnt see from my previous position was quartered away from us at about a hundred yards with his head down, but even I could tell that this was a shooter! With Jason giving me the thumbs up, I immediately set up to shoot from a sitting position. After waiting for the other game to clear away and for the Impala to lift his head up I touched a round off and he went straight down. I was extremely pleased with my Impala!
Back at the skinning shed, I apologized to Morlen for making the kill without him. He genuinely loves the hunt and having him present adds to my enjoyment of it as well. We took care of the Impala and went out again in search of another opportunity. It was not long in coming, as we soon spotted a herd of Zebra in the distance. Jason was eager to get a Zebra in the bag as he said they can often give hunters the run around. After making a long, circling stalk to get the wind in our favor, we soon found ourselves virtually in the middle of a herd of 50-60 constantly moving and very alert Zebra. As we struggled to identify the one animal we wanted from the herd, a big stallion spotted us and stopped broadside at roughly 80 steps. At Jasons direction, I did my thing with the .06 and suddenly dozens of Zebra were running wildly away, with our guy melting unidentifiably into the herd. Morlen and Jason immediately got onto the tracks and picked up the blood as I followed along ready to shoot again if needed. I was very confident of my shot, but seeing those tough African animals show zero reaction to being hit does something to you that makes you second guess yourself somehow. The herd began to backtrack as they appeared to search for their fallen companion. This convinced us that our animal was lying up ahead and nearby, but a couple hundred yards from the shot scene, Jason suddenly turned to me and said something silly about how he was sorry but that it didnt look good for me, blahblahblah he was immediately hit with some good natured insults from me as I could see my Zebra laying dead just beyond him! He was an old scarred up stallion and according to the guys a likely contender if not the leader of the herd, especially considering the way they came back to look for him when he had gone missing.
I was on cloud nine after such an action packed first day of hunting. What an awesome start to my first African Safari!
The accommodations at the Motswiri Lodge were very comfortable with just the right mix of rustic and comfort. I began each morning by poking my head out of the tent to see what game was present in the large pan nearby. There was always something to view at first light with Warthogs & Springbok ever present.
The second morning of hunting provided plenty of the usual sightings of various animals along the way, but by midday we had not taken a shot at anything. We stopped at a large waterhole with a 2 story blind in place on it to enjoy the always delicious and ample lunch provided by KB and the kitchen crew. As we sat munching on our sandwiches prepared from the wild game meat taken on Kanana, a variety of species of game began to filter into the water that we sat guarding. We watched until our lunch was finished, then moved on.
After covering some more ground we soon spotted a couple of really nice Kudu bulls that Jason decided he and I should get a closer look at. We left the truck and crept into the bush expecting to soon be on top of the bulls. After wandering in search of them for quite some time, they seem to have simply vanished and I was reminded of their popular nickname. They dont call them the Gray Ghost for nothin着
We continued on our way and soon came upon a Rhino cow & calf. I considered this to be a real treat as I was hoping that we would get the chance to see these special creatures. After watching them for a while and taking some photos we continued on our way.
A few minutes later, we parked the Land Cruiser and walked through the bush until we came upon a nice waterhole with a bow blind in place. We crept into a position to observe the activity from and watched from a hundred yards or so as several good Gemsbok bulls and cows milled around. Having previously taken a Oryx on a New Mexico draw tag in the states, I knew that I wanted a great bull, followed by a super cow. Not seeing exactly what I wanted we continued to wait, knowing that something interesting could appear at any time. As several Warthogs eventually left the scene, Jason whispered to me to check out that Warthog by the tree. Moving into a position to better see from, I could see a big old boar lying against a tree near the water. We decided to wait for him to get up and if his left tusk matched the right one that we could see, we would take him. No sooner than this decision was made, he stood up and gave me a good look. I wasted no time in taking the shot and we were soon standing over the ancient Warthog. Jason commented that he was so old that he would likely not have seen another winter.
The next couple of days saw the temperatures plummet as a cold front came through bringing lows of -4C, or 25 degrees Fahrenheit. We decided that due to the labor intensity involved with the skinning and processing of the Giraffe, it would be in our best interest to try and put a big bull on the ground during this time. Someone forgot to tell that to the Giraffe though, because try as we may we could not close the deal on one during this cold weather period.
The morning of day 3 brought much excitement as there was a planned release of 23 Zebra that were being brought in from another property to enhance the genetics on Kanana. Jason has many projects planned that will greatly improve the already awesome conditions present on Kanana and I for one am excited about seeing these ideas implemented. The Zebra release was a great success and I definitely did not mind losing the hunting time to participate in this rare and unexpected event.
Having left camp very early and without eating that morning in order not to miss out on the Zebra release, we returned to Motswiri to break our fast before getting busy with the business of hunting. I always enjoyed my breakfast each day, not only because of the great food that was served, but also due to the fact that I could look out onto the huge pan next to the lodge from where I ate.
Shortly after leaving camp we came upon an impressive herd of male Waterbuck. This actually happened quite often, and I always became very excited at the prospect of taking a big Waterbuck. It is simply one of those animals that really get my motor running for whatever reason. After evaluating them for several minutes, we chose to pass on them and only after moving on did we notice even more of them that had been hidden from our view. As they ran off into the bush, one or two of them really stood out as especially good ones, and I hoped to have another look at them in the near future.
Slowly cruising down the sandy roads we were constantly on the lookout for game animals that would often suddenly appear both near to us and far away. Someone called out for the truck to stop and I was soon looking at a great Kudu bull that was of such trophy quality that he needed no second look for evaluation. With the sun shining off his huge spiraled horns, he looked directly at us from a few hundred yards with his head tossed back as if in defiance. Jason, Morlen and I prepared to make a move that would hopefully get us within shooting range of the bull. Knowing the caliber of this trophy, my excitement level upon making the approach towards him was at full peak. Stopping to glass for the bull and the companion that had been seen with him, we soon realized that they had obviously moved from their previous feeding location, probably due to our encroachment into the area. We continued to search for them for the next couple of hours to no avail. Even the often used method of climbing into the tops of trees to gain a elevated point of view revealed no sightings of our quarry. They had simply vanished, so we exited the area with hopes of returning to find them later. Although not one of the bulls we had chased, the type of Kudu pictured here has future potential and will definitely cause you to grab a second look.
We eventually found ourselves back at the Warthog waterhole where we once again glassed the Gemsbok in search of our shooter. We decided to take a nice bull from among the herd that just like the day before, was very keen and obviously aware of our presence. We werent exactly well hidden from view at the downwind spot we had chosen, and as I stood up by the tree I sat by to clear the low brush for a shot, the Gemsbok herd became spooky and broke out in a run as I instinctively swung with my bull and touched off the shot. The audible report of a solid hit came back to us as the bullet found its mark on the running animal and the bull showed obvious signs of the hit. Feeling good about the shot, I took up the trail with our talented trackers and after sorting out the blood trail amongst the confusing maze of tracks & trails Morlen and Happy led us to the prize that lay among the thorns. He was a great Oryx with excellent length, mass and age and a slight fraying of his right horn tip. Just what I wanted!
We collected our Gemsbok and continued hunting for the next encounter. It dawned on me that hunting at Kanana really seemed a lot like deep sea fishing in that you really never knew what you may see next. As it began to get late in the day, we drove up on one of my favorite waterholes for seeing Waterbuck. As a big bull turned and faded into the brush I didnt need for Jason to tell me that he was the one, but he excitedly and confidently confirmed that this was the one.
We proceeded to begin what would be one of the most nerve racking and rewarding stalks of the entire Safari. Expecting to encounter the big bull just inside the brush he had melted into, we covered a lot of ground without ever catching a glimpse of him. After cautiously going much farther that we expected to need to, I found myself utilizing my normal practice of attempting to hunt as effectively as possible by trying to look into the areas that perhaps Jason and the trackers were not looking at. I realize the advantage they have over me of being able to efficiently spot game and consider it more advantageous to look where they may not be. I also consider it a great victory to see something before they do! This time I did, as we found ourselves surrounded by thick brush and I noticed a dark form in the thicket to our left. Another, then another and another soon became visible as we soon found ourselves in the midst of several Waterbuck bulls. At this point, things really got crazy as I simply tried to calm myself and prepare to do my job and allow Jason to do his by pointing out the shooter to me. Leaving Morlen and Happy behind, we attempted to edge into a position that would hopefully allow a better view of the brush hidden animals without getting us busted. We finally identified the bruiser of the bunch, and after setting and re-setting the shooting sticks a few times as we followed the bull for a clear shot, I finally found myself set up on the sticks waiting for the bull to take one more step into a small clearing big enough to shoot through. The next few seconds are burned into my memory, as the bull put his shoulder in the opening and then dropped as I immediately took the shot. We carefully covered the distance through the blackthorn to our prize, which although obviously was fatally hit and was going nowhere, had shakily gotten back to his feet. Another carefully placed shot and he was ours. The joy and enthusiasm that Jason & the guys showed over our accomplishment simply fed my already great satisfaction in a great trophy taken on an awesome hunt.
The fourth day of my Safari found us searching in earnest for the big Giraffe bull that we were after. The weather forecast called for another rather cold day, so we declared that this would indeed be Giraffe day. We searched high and low for a old mature bull, but he was not to be found. Only his female and younger kin were observed.
We did get into a group of four Kudu bulls that were all really nice. One of them Jason deemed as a shooter, so I agreed to take up the chase and try to put him in the bag. We were seen by them in our approach, and worked for a couple of hours to get into a good shooting position. I actually set up a couple of times for a shot that I could have made happen, but I was not really fired up by the bull and I hesitated to take the shot. I somehow knew that although I would be ok with taking the bull, he wasnt really the one that excited me and I may not be fully satisfied with the kill. I apologized to Jason for not taking the shot and he was totally understanding about my reasons for not doing so. Although he recognized that the Kudu was a shooter in just about anyone痴 book, he also wanted me to be completely happy with what I chose to take. Just like I seemed to do about every other day, when some type of opportunity arose that for whatever reason I did not capitalize on, I assured him and the guys that something better would come along before the day was done. And as usual, I was rewarded for the optimistic attitude!
As we drove along we continued to see something that was almost always constantly visible to us Gemsbok! Kanana is absolutely infested with large Gemsbok, and we saw them everywhere we went. The Kalahari is their most natural environment and they flourish there. We soon were observing one in particular that was just a bit different in that he seemed to only have one horn. Upon closer inspection it occurred to us that his right horn was curled and came around to meet his forehead. It didnt take long for me to decide that I wanted to take the bull, so we exited the Land Cruiser and approach to within a couple hundred yards of the animal where we set up the shooting sticks for a shot. One well placed bullet later we were approaching the downed animal for a curious look. What we found was very interesting and made us glad for the decision to take the animal. Not only did the horn curl around to meet the animal痴 forehead, but the pressure caused as it continued to grow against the Oryxs head had caused the horn to split. There was no doubt in our minds that the beast had long suffered some level of discomfort from this abnormality. As a non-typical, the Gemsbok would turn out to be one of my favorite and most interesting trophies taken during the Safari.
Although unsuccessful in our endeavor to close the deal on our elusive Giraffe Stinkbull, the crew managed to have a great time hunting together and we ended our fourth day of Safari on a high note. The usual gang consisted of Will, Jason, Happy, myself and Morlen. I honestly know of no other group of guys that I would rather hunt with!
To be continued