Spiral Horn Safaris RSA 22 June - 5 July Buffalo & PG - 1st Timer
Outfitter: Spiral Horn Safaris, Limpopo Province, South Africa
PH: Louis Van Bergen (primary) and Richard Du Plessis
Booking Agent: Tom Addleman of Hunting for Adventure
Rifle and ammo: Remington Model 700 in .338 Win Mag with 250 gr Nosler Partitions and Whitworth Mark X in .458 Win Mag with 450 gr Barnes TSX and 500 gr Swift A-Frames.
Animals Seen: Cape Buffalo, Burchells Zebra, Blue Wildebeest, Impala, Anteater, Giraffe, Bat-Eared Fox, White Rhino, Gemsbok, Waterbuck, Kudu, Nyala, Warthog, Eland, Roan, Sable, Red Hartebeest, Steinbok, Duiker, Monitor Lizard, Banded and Red-Eyed Mongoose, lots of Guinea Fowl and Francolin.
Animals Taken: Cape Buffalo, Burchells Zebra, Blue Wildebeest, and Impala.
Travel: Steve Turner, Travel with Guns
Dates of trip: June 23 July 4, 2013
I've dreamed of hunting Africa since 1994 when I picked up a paperback Capstick novel. I've got a small library to keep fueling the fire and that, along with this and several other forums kept me enthused. I always found excuses not to book a hunt, most notably my job痴 unpredictability. Well, I retired from that job in July and started a high school teaching job where my Summers allow preplanning and committing to plans in advance. My wife and I attended the African Sporting Exposition (ASE) in Charlotte, NC where we met Louis and Karin Van Bergen of Spiral Horn Safaris (Spiral Horn Safaris). My lovely bride told me when we came back home "You really need to just do this. You've earned it."
I called several outfitters and booking agents and checked up on a few of them. In the mean time, I asked my 76-year-old father if he would like to join me on this adventure. It may have taken him two or three seconds to say "Yes." I decided to keep this trip as simple as possible; fewest layovers and flight legs, US-based agent handling funds, someone else handling flight arrangements, etc
It turned out Spiral Horn Safaris met my needs using Tom Addleman of Hunting for Adventure. I sent Tom an initial payment he needed to secure my dates with Spiral Horn Safaris. About 60 days out, I sent the remainder of the fees which remained with him in the US until I e-mailed him at the end of the hunt. I also elected to send him a check to cover my estimated trophy fees so I could carry as little cash as necessary in South Africa. This too stayed in the US until I e-mailed Tom after the hunt. Tom's communication was superb, with both electronic and hard copy receipts quickly sent to me with courtesy-copies to Louis Van Bergen to keep him in-the-loop. Louis was even kind enough to allow me to shoot what I wanted and send him personal payment after I got home if I wished.
From the time I first made contact with Spiral Horn Safaris, communication was excellent. Louis has good cell phone coverage and used his iPhone and e-mail to answer all of my questions promptly and add his suggestions where they were needed.
I booked our flights through Steve at Travel With Guns. We met him at the ASE in Charlotte and he was knowledgeable and responsive. He talked me into Delta痴 Economy Comfort upgrade for the direct flight to/from Atlanta and Johannesburg. It was a great option for the money and we ended up with priority boarding and an extra 4 of leg room. I'll do the same next time as well. As with Tom and Louis, communication was constant and relevant. Although my PH would meet me to clear my firearms at the airport, Steve and his team made sure I understood that process as well and included an itinerary book with lots of helpful in-country helpful hints. Their baggage tags saved the day for my father. He travelled with the ever-popular black soft-sided luggage and their bright yellow tag made it easy to find.
Our primary PH, and owner of Spiral Horn Safaris, Louis and another PH, Richard, who used to PH with Louis in Zambia, met us as we exited the secure area and quickly processed us through the firearms retrieval and registration process. They carried our bags to their vehicles and we were off to a Bed and Breakfast in Pretoria, Moerdijkhuis. The B&B, made of carved stone, was designed and built by Gerard Moerdijk, the same man who designed the Voortrekker Monument less than 5km away.
The lovely woman running the place got our bags settled in and showed us how to enter the property at night then we were off to dinner with Louis and his darling wife, Karin. They took us to a seafood restaurant whose name I failed to record and we all had calamari and some sort of grouper-like fish along with some South African white wine, whose name I also forgot to record hey, I was tired, ok. Louis insisted on picking up the tab even when my father offered to pay. Then it was back to the B&B for a good night痴 rest before an 8:00 AM pickup for our 3-hour drive to the hunting camp. My father and I enjoyed a nice breakfast and settled the bill; just under $60 per room for the night. The PHs showed up promptly at 8:00, loaded our bags, and we were off. My father and I are both history buffs and asked if they'd mind taking us by the Voortrekker Monument on our way out of town. It was worth the extra hour to take the tour and gain a very small bit of appreciation for the determination of the Boers as they crossed South Africa.
Off to camp with me asking questions for almost three hours straight and Louis patiently filling me in on the drive and pointing out various landmarks and terrain features. We arrived at camp and the real adventure began.
I'm sure there are a hundred ways to give a hunt report, but I'll stick with, for the most part, a day-by-day account as that's how I used a journal to record the hunt's events. I'll start, however, with a brief summary of camp life.
Camp life was wonderfully predictable and geared toward client ease of life so we could stay focused on relaxing in camp and enjoying the hunt. Each morning started with coffee and some cereal, rusks, or biscuits/rolls. One of the camp boys would have a fire going to knock of the chill and the bakkie would be loaded with water, food, and hunting gear (sticks, etc? about the time breakfast was done. It was out to hunt, typically until around noon or so when we returned to camp for a very hearty breakfast/lunch, followed by a nap I'm going to have to run the nap idea by my boss. It was great! Then back out to hunting, sometimes until dark or, if a kill was made, a little earlier. We'd return to camp to find the campfire burning, the bar well-supplied near the fire, and tasty and unique appetizers on the bar. I'm going to talk with my wife about how poorly she welcomes me home from work around here...so please share your remedies for black eyes and cold beds. After a drink and appetizer, I'd go to my chalet/cabin for a hot shower, as one of the camp boys would've lit a fire beneath the water donkey so I'd have hot water to wash off the dust.
Hot water donkey/heater.
Common area chalet.
Dining area and kitchen.
Me and dad lounging around the fire.
Tootsie making magic happen in the kitchen.
Into a clean set of camp clothes and moccasins, then back to the campfire for a drink and pleasant conversation as we waited for a late dinner. We were fortunate in that PH Louis wife, Karin, joined us for her birthday weekend where she asked me the best business-related question ever "what do you like so far and what do you not like?" PH Richard's girlfriend, Rionna, was there for the entire visit and is a great girl, and not just because we could radio her to come pick us up with the bakkie. Finally, an old friend of Louis, Andrew, brought his wife, Krystal, along as he hunted biltong and it made for great campfire conversation and I asked him about their hunting culture while he quizzed me about hunting in the US, especially Alaska. Good stuff.
I found it interesting that when I called references before booking this hunt, some spent more time talking about the camp cook, Tootsie's culinary skills than about the hunting. I soon found out why. I'd be halfway through a late afternoon hunt, tired and sore, and find myself wondering what Tootsie would be making for dinner. Oh my, that woman can cook! My wife and I are true foodies and the food in camp rivaled the best I've had in New York, Napa, Europe, and the Middle-East. My pictures simply don't do it justice at all. We asked her early on to please feed us some traditional dishes and meat from the game we took. She did and it was amazing. My father and I are not dessert eaters, but we finished every single dessert Tootsie put in front of us. Best of all, she's a sociable camp cook and, when you can get her out of the kitchen, a great campfire companion. She also had a nice choice of South African wines on hand for us to try as she was rightfully proud of her country's wine industry. After dinner, dessert, and a final drink or two around the campfire it was off to bed.
Typical campfire appetizer.
The thatched chalets were furnished with a comfortable bed, complete with an electric blanket for the cool nights, and electric heater for the room, an armoir, dresser, sink and shower. I got spoiled here.
When I spoke with Louis, I let him know my priorities were Cape Buffalo, Zebra, and then antelope. I had an initial antelope wish list, but quickly discarded it and decided to take what Africa offered up as we hunted. I booked nine days of actual hunting and only wanted to take four animals, plus one antelope for my observer father, leaving a day or two for the inevitable vehicle breakdown, medical emergency, etc Thankfully, we never lost a single hunting day, but having nine days available reduced any unnecessary pressure on the PHs or me and my father.
ARRIVAL DAY: We arrived in camp, got our gear into our chalets, and settled into a nice pasta and meat lunch. Then it was off to the range to, in the words of our PH, ensure the rifles were still "on" after the flight. True, I know, but I'm sure it's just as important to be sure the client is also "on" now that they have him in country. Thankfully rifles and clients were good-to-go.
We set off on a game drive to get to know the property. Lots of animals, including the anteater and bat-eared foxes were seen, but the highlight was a leopard kill.
He壇 dragged an impala ram high into a tree and eaten most of him.
Back to camp for dinner and some sleep.
DAY 1: Up at 2:30 AM and couldn't get back to sleep so I did some reading and listened to the jackals and impalas around camp. We headed out after Zebra and whatever else offered itself up. Tracked a small group of Zebra for close almost 5-6 miles and ended up on the sticks once for Zebra and again for Impala but didn't take a shot. The tracker, Jotham, was amazing. He learned his craft as a young boy in Zimbabwe, keeping after cattle and having to find them by tracking. On the drive back to camp we spotted a small herd of Blue Wildebeest and one of them offered himself at just over 100 yards, standing head-on towards us. Took the shot off the sticks, straight on into his chest with the 338 Win Mag and 250 gr Nosler Partition. He ran, perhaps 10 yards, and died. Of interest to me, had a lot of character on his horns from fighting, rubbing against trees, and living in the bush.
Back at camp, we celebrated with a bottle of Port my good friend from Napa gave me as a retirement present, a 1984 (year I enlisted in the AF) Beringer Port. We enjoyed a wonderful curry dinner and baked cheesecake for dessert. Went to sleep with dreams of Zebra.
DAY 2: Up at 4:00 AM, so I got a good solid 5 hours of sleep which is about as good as I get at home. I wrote in my journal and did a little reading. After coffee and rusks we put in several miles tracking Zebra and I was on the sticks for a nice warthog, but didn't have the heart to interrupt him while he was mounting a hideous looking female warthog...well, hideous to me. When he finished his business, she took off running with him in hot pursuit. Jotham tracked them for about a mile and declared "he wants some more, but she is not interested." Up on sticks for Impala but no good shot was offered.
After another large breakfast/lunch and a nap, well-deserved and needed after the long walk, we were back out again. We saw Zebra from the truck and, after they took off running, Jotham got us on their tracks and the game was on. With careful attention to the wind, Jotham worked us to within less than 300 yards of the animals which were avoiding the mid-day heat and resting in the dense trees and brush, slowly moving around from time to time. With my PH leading the way we leopard crawled to a shady spot 230 yards from the Zebra and he got me up on the BogPod sticks in a sitting position.
No excuses here as the rest was almost as steady as a bench rest. The PH described the Zebra stallion he had in mind and I tried with amateur frustration to see what he was describing to me. Finally, as the Zebra decided to cross an opening, I could clearly see the stallion. I held on his shoulder and squeezed the trigger.
I'm usually pretty goo at calling my shots and estimated this one was 6" back from where I held, but I'd completely forgotten to compensate for the animal's movement and put the Nosler into his belly. Very disappointed in my own shooting, but we moved up to less than 200 yards and I put a bullet into his neck to end it. What a gorgeous animal. I apologized to him about the belly shot and we got busy taking pictures and loading him onto the bakkie.
That evening, Dad accompanied PH Richard to the airfield to try and find a suitable Impala, his only trophy goal for the trip. No mature males were found, but we tried unsuccessfully to talk him into taking a nice Blue Wildebeest that was broadside at around 100 yards and then approached to 70 yards to stand face-on.
Another great meal, some drinks, and it was off to bed with dreams of angry Cape Buffalo as tomorrow we were heading to a ranch for Buff.
DAY 3: Before breakfast, my PH took the time to describe shot placement on his camp buffalo.
Took off after breakfast for a ranch that held a herd of Buffalo for us to hunt. I was allowed to take one between 34 and 38', perfectly satisfactory to me. We put in a lot of miles and caught sight of the herd, waiting and hoping they would come out of some thick bush. While waiting, a tame dehorned Nyala, who we were told by our guide used to be a house pet, followed us around it was a low point of the hunt. We left my father with our tracker, Jotham, and headed downwind of the herd into the thick stuff to try and get close enough to the right bull for a shot.
We got close, but it was too thick for a shot and the herd got our wind and took off, straight toward my dad. Jotham, good man that he is, helped get my dad up a tree and when we came out of the brush we could see dad climbing down. It wasn't a charge in any sense of the word, but I'm sure it was a sight to see just the same. We decided not to push the herd any more and headed back to camp for lamb steaks and Zebra filets on the braii.
DAY 4: Back to the same property of the day before. A small herd fled from us early on but Jotham and our PHs found tracks at the water hole and we were off into the thick stuff. It wasn't long before we were hunkered down glassing a few buffalo, perhaps 40-50 yards away in, you guessed it, thick brush. A quick look to our left revealed a half dozen or less buffalo headed straight for us. While my PHs engaged the guide in heated Afrikaans (more on that later), we watched the buffalo approach to within 12 yards before they figured something just wasn't quite right and the calmly trotted off to join the rest of the herd. Jotham took up the track and we were soon close behind the herd. As we crouched down, the herd ended up with us partially surrounded by a few buffalo very exciting and just what I'd signed up for The rest of the day was a routine us following, trying to get ahead of, and otherwise watching, actually more hearing, the herd stampede through small trees like a couple of tanks on maneuvers. Amazing beasts. We spent the last part of the day at the feeding/watering area, with the tame Nyala making another appearance.
On the drive back to camp, my PH asked what I thought. I enjoyed the close proximity to buffalo but could do without the feedlot area and tame Nyala and would prefer to do something else, or at least somewhere else. I also found out he and our other PH were frustrated at that and the fact they'd seen bulls in my price/spread range and we'd not been given permission to fire. He said he would "make a plan" and was on and off the cell phone all the way to camp.
Dinner was Boerwurst and Zebra filet and while having a drink around the fire my PH ran down a few options for further buffalo hunting. One grabbed my interest; a smaller herd, but we could take any bull in the herd.
DAY 5: I had two animals in the salt, so we made today my father's day to carry the rifle and try and find a suitable Impala for him. That morning he and PH Richard walked to the airfield to put the stalk on some Impala but the herd spooked. Back to camp for a late breakfast and a nap.
We drove out of camp and not a quarter mile down the road we heard a warthog grunting loudly and then screaming bloody murder. Later that afternoon, PH Louis found a drag mark on another road where an animal had been drug into the brush. It was the warthog we heard screaming earlier and she'd been killed by a leopard and left below a tree, likely abandoned as we followed the drag.
Jotham and the PHs secured the warthog in the tree, set up a game camera, and we all looked forward to seeing what would happen overnight.
Dad and PH Richard headed out to the airfield again just before dark, saw some Impala, but took no shot.
DAY 6: Today's PH Louis wife's birthday so our gift to the camp was a chance to sleep in for the morning. PH Louis, Jotham, and I checked the tree they'd secured the warthog in and the only thing left were the hind legs. Amazingly, the leopard came in before dark and then came back again before and after first light.
They hope to keep this cat on the bait for a hunter coming later in the Summer. We came back and freshened the bait with a Zebra quarter.
Mid-day meal was a Champagne Breakfast in honor of Karin's birthday. Roan and cheese crepes, waffles, biscuits, eggs to order, sausage and ham made for a nap-worthy meal.
After our nap, we all loaded into the bakkie for a game drive and, at my request, an opportunity to verify zero on the 458 Win Mag as we'd be back to hunting buffalo the next morning. No worries, with a " group off the sticks at 50 yds using my Nikon 1.5-4X scope.
On the way back to camp a Blue Wildebeest stepped out into the dirt road at a bit over a hundred yards after dad, PH Louis, and Jotham had gone the road a little ways to look at Zebra and some Wildebeest that eventually spooked. A quick sprint had dad up on the sticks for a shot at the Wildebeest. We followed tracks for a quarter mile or so until Jotham finally confirmed no hit on the animal. Once back at camp, PH Richard and my father walked back to the airfield to see what might present itself for a stalk.
PH Richard came back right at dark and told me my dad shot a wildebeest and, wonderful news, it was dead! They'd stalked a small herd and using small bushes approached to within 60 yards where dad took a quartering away shot to drill it through the heart.
DAY 7: Today was the day of the buffalo for me. Up well before dawn, we headed to a ranch near Thabazimbi, and within sight of Markele Kop in the Waterberg Mountains, to hunt Cape Buffalo.
The ranch owner had swept the roads so any tracks we found crossing dirt roads would be relatively fresh. He also assigned us a tracker to assist Jotham who knew the property well. Early on we found tracks of a herd of six buffalo and within an hour Jotham called a halt as he could see buffalo not 20 yards ahead in extremely thick brush. Try as I might, I just couldn't find a suitable path through the branches or, for that matter, the vitals of a bull in that virtual jungle. A bird called out and the spooked herd took off at a run breaking branches and small trees as they left. This scene repeated itself a couple more times before lunch and nap-time.
Our pushing the herd caused it to split up and we eventually got onto the track of two bulls. We changed tactics and whenever the buffalo ran we would run after them in hopes they stop to take a look at the hunters behind them, obviously lacking any common sense. This ended up being the first day I actually saw my PH and tracker take a sip of water instead of simply carrying water for me and my father. After a couple of these sprints, my 76-year-old father elected to stay on the bakkie with the ranch owner take a breather.
About 30 minutes prior to sunset, we came close to the two bulls again in, you guessed it, the thickest brush imaginable. Jotham suggested he and the other tracker stay put as the buffalo knew we were there and the PHs and I would do an end-around and try and cut off the escape route. Just about the time my PH thought we were in place, up came the sticks and out came the two bulls. I had no shot at the lead bull as a tree blocked the vitals, but the second bull was quartering slightly and offered a shot at his vitals. Per PH instructions, I put one in the crease behind the shoulder and the bull dropped at the shot. A couple of shots just for insurance and the bull was done. The Barnes TSX performed perfectly and, although I haven't weighed them yet, I'm predicting 100% weight retention.
The whole team, including the rancher's staff, were excited and all wanted photos taken with the bull. The boss was a bit soft still, but the spread and hooks were gorgeous and taking this particular bull was my choice. I was and am still delighted. What a picture of pure muscle power!
That evening Tootsie served up Wildebeest Wellington.
DAY 8: Today was a lazy day in the hunting department. I still wouldn't mind taking an Impala, but there was no pressure at all. PH Louis and Jotham took some guts out to drag for the leopard and checked the un-hit baits.
The PHs took us to a nearby game breeding farm for photos.
Just as the sun was going down, I was on the sticks at the airfield for an Impala. I took him at 160 yards, facing head-on, with the 338 Win Mag and he dropped at the shot. A great way to wrap up the hunt. The ram had beautiful black markings here and there and will look nice on the wall.
Appetizers, at our request, of Cape Buffalo tongue and balls were waiting on us when we returned.
DAY 9: Pure laziness with no regrets. A great day to get ready for the flight out the next day. The PH and I sat down, agreed upon the final payment due, and concluded the business end of the hunt.
I visited the skinning shed several times to watch the professionals at work and check on the trophies.
You certainly don't want to take a severely quartering away shot at an unwounded buffalo. Just imagine trying to push a bullet through all of that wet grass in his stomach.
LEAVING CAMP: We took a final shot of the trophies prior to loading up for the ride to the taxidermist and then the airport.
IMPRESSIONS AND LESSONS-LEARNED: Thankfully, after reading all I could in books, magazines, and on AfricanHunting.com and other forums, there weren't many surprises on this trip. In fact, much of the hunt unfolded as expected, albeit better than I could've hoped. That said, this being my first safari, I did learn and relearn a few things. Yep, I packed too many clothes. I could've easily got by with a pair of long pants, two pairs of shorts, and 3 long sleeve shirts where the sleeves roll-up and are then attached. Daily laundry service was reliable and it was a treat to find neatly folded clothes on my bed each afternoon. Next time I will pack a shotgun and ask my PH to pick up a few boxes of shells. I'm a die-hard bird hunter back home and it pained me to see all the Francolin, Doves, and Guineau Fowl without the ability to hunt them.
My PH recommended Barnes TSX bullets for my DG rifle and I was very pleased with their performance as was I with the Nosler Partitions on plains game.
I was glad I did so much practice off the sticks at home, both standing and seated as it gave me the confidence needed to make the shots.
I was pleased with my decision to give myself nine days to take 4 animals, plus one for my father. It kept the entire experience low-stress and fun for everyone.
My father and I were treated better than family by our PHs, tracker, cook, and the rest of the camp staff. In fact, it took several days before I was quick enough to pour my own drink, clear my own dishes, or put a log on the campfire. PH Louis hunted us, except for buffalo, on the 30,000 acres accessible from the camp. He was careful to ensure we never saw a fence and we felt all the romanticism of Old Africa. This was my first trip to Africa, but not the first time I've shelled out hard-earned money for services provided. My money was very very well spent and I can hardly wait for the opportunity to do it all again. Louis and his team understand superior service and from start to finish everything was just as he described it would be or better. When adjustment made sense, he "made a plan" and we stayed on course. I certainly have a greater respect for all the behind-the-scenes logistics and planning that goes into a successful hunt. Neither PH ever pressured me or my father to take a particular animal nor did they hurry our shots. The advised on which animals were mature, what shot placement was appropriate, and told us to fire when ready, just as I'd hoped.
Finally, I'll leave you with a story my father shared around the campfire one evening, edited for Africa... Two travellers a mile apart are walking on the same dirt path toward a small village. The first meets an old man standing in the shade beneath a Boabab tree and asks him "what sort of people live in this village?" The old man replies "what sort of people do you have back home?" The first traveller replies "we have thieves and scoundrels everywhere and the people are lazy and dishonest." The old man says "you will find those same people here too." A while later the second traveller arrives to find the old man beneath the Boabab tree and asks him "what sort of people live in this village?" The old man replies "what sort of people do you have back home?" The second traveller replies "we have good people who help their friends and neighbors and most are hardworking and honest." The old man says "you will find those same people here too." I took the time to book with honest and hardworking people. I trusted them and was not disappointed. I'll be back.