Kwalata Wilderness Experience - Hunting with Jaco Strauss
Hunting Kwalata Wilderness, Limpopo, South Africa
September 11-19th, 2012
I have been hunting and enjoying the outdoors for most of my life. My prey of preference was chasing Whitetail Deer though a multitude of states on both public and private lands. I've sat in tree stands from before sun up till after dark, sweated through many mosquito ridden archery hunts and froze my arse off during late season gun hunts. I have had the opportunity to harvest a number of Whitetails but now it is time to explore other opportunities and different species.
I hadn't given much thought about hunting in Africa but I was keeping an open mind when I visited the Eastern Outdoor Show in Harrisburg , PA, USA. While there, I ran into a "Big Oak" of a PH (Professional Hunter), Jaco Strauss. There was definitely something different about this PH from all the others I had met and spoken with at the Outdoor Show. Jaco wore a perpetual grin and when he spoke of hunting, well the excitement and passion for the sport exuded from every part of his being. The more Jaco spoke the more excited he became and the more excited I became about the prospect of hunting in Africa. After thirty minutes of discussion, stories and yes of course, tall tales, I knew hunting in Africa must now be on my bucket list and Jaco was the PH I needed to guide me there!
By luck, chance or intuition, I settled on a Safari with none other than Jaco Strauss and Kwalata Wilderness. Armed with a trusty rifle, bow, more gear then I needed and a heap of faith, I boarded a 777 bound for Johannesburg, SA and the Kwalata Wilderness. I arrived safely and was greeted at the airport by the owners of Kwalata, Reinhard Heuser and his quick witted wife, Caroline. They were very personable and after brief conversation, I knew I was among friends and in good hands.
Kwalata is located in the Limpopo Province of South Africa. It is a huge track of land, roughly 50 square miles of contiguous, yes contiguous, wildlife habitat. The property is teaming with trophy plains game and home to four of the big five animals. The lodge, strategically placed along a lake filled with Largemouth Bass and Catfish, is an oasis on the edge of the vast Kwalata wilderness. The accommodations; king sized bed, private bath, stocked bar, fire pit, pool, gathering area, safari vehicles, etc., were the best hunting accommodations I have ever experienced. Their attention to detail, professional and friendly staff are among the best in the world. The food was delicious and plentiful! Louise is a great chef and will do whatever she can to accommodate any of your culinary desires. If you walked away from the table hungry, it was your own fault! From the moment I stepped foot on Kwalata, the team made me feel at home and I knew I was in for a trip of a lifetime!
I was awakened the first morning by the calls of a Franklin. If you don't know what a Franklin is, well, visit Kwalata and you will. It's a bird that makes the most obnoxious early morning noise possible and, if I had my druthers, it would end up on the business end of a scatter gun! Regardless, his alarm worked and the excitement of the first morning hunt in Africa was starting to take over! By now the Camp was bustling and my mind was racing as to what the day would bring. I met Jaco in the main lodge where he proceeded to introduce me to our Tracker, Joe. Joe is an experienced and seasoned outdoorsman with the eyes of a hawk. This guy could spot or track anything that he came across and find any game you wanted to chase. It is awesome just to see him work. You can tell he lives to hunt and loves what he does! With Jaco and Joe, I was in great company and among the best hunters in the business.
Louise had a breakfast spread ready and of course, fresh brewed coffee. We sat down at the table and started to hash out a plan. At Kwalata, the staff makes it clear and it is instilled in them; it is all about the clients (we, the hunters) experience. This has not always been the case with some of the other outfitters I have hunted with. You can hunt from a blind, ride in a Landcruiser and spot and stalk or get out there and walk the ridges spotting and stalking. It's up to you, heck you can even sleep in if you want to. I don't know why you would but to each their own! The staff definitely caters to the hunter and the hunter's desires. We chose to get out amongst the critters and walk the bush. It's a lot like hunting Elk in New Mexico or Southern Colorado. The terrain is mountainous, foothills type of country, with lots of rocks, scrub brush and small trees. There are flats but it's definitely not like what you watch on Nat Geo or the plains of the Serengeti. The temperatures range from low 50's in the morning to 80's in the afternoon. If you want to walk, bring comfortable hiking boots and be prepared to cover some ground! I recommend it. It is, by far, the best way to see the country and get some close encounters with the locals; Rhino, Hippo, Giraffe, Kudu, Blesbuck, Klipspringer, Impala, Zebra, Duiker, etc.! If that's not your thing, you still will see plenty of game covering the property aboard one of the Landcruisers.
Our first order of business was finding a trophy Greater Kudu. Jaco and Joe now had their objective and we set off that morning with purpose and determination. Three days and many Kudu bulls later we had an opportunity to get a shot on a trophy. This meant, Jaco finally found a bull that he would mount in his home and he would let me shoot. Jaco knew what I was after and was not about to let me shoot a juvenile or inferior bull. I thought, this one must be good. We were position high on a ridge and the Kudu were traveling well below on the valley floor. It was a perfect spot for an ambush. There were several bulls and Jaco made sure I saw them all and I knew which one was the biggest. I worked my way into shooting position and placed the crosshairs just behind the front shoulder. The large Kudu was facing to the left and quartering slightly away. We were experiencing a bit of a cross wind moving right to left so the Kudu was in a perfect position to receive the .300 Wby Mag. bullet. Jaco then states, only shoot if you are comfortable? I thought, ok, why did he say that? He then proceeds to reiterate his previous statement, only shoot if you feel comfortable? I took this to mean, Rookie, if you can't make this shot or you are unsure of the shot, then don't shoot! My first thought was, wow, that looks like a long way and I hesitated, questioning momentarily my abilities! I quickly shrugged that off and now knew I had no choice but to make this shot. My instincts with my index finger at the helm took over and the shot rang through the valley below. The Kudu buckled, lunged forward and fell out of site. Though I did not see him die, I could tell the bull was down by looking at the smiles on Jaco's and Joe's faces. I didn't really know who was more excited, me or my guides! It was a great feeling nonetheless but I still was not completely satisfied until I could get my hands on the massive animal.
We had just hunted two and a half days, walked many miles by shoe leather express, traveled up and down the mountains, passed up several nice Kudu bulls (a 23 plus Impala and one world class Klipspringer 6 and a half inch plus, much to Jaco's dismay), and managed to pull off a long shot on a trophy bull. It was definitely a concerted effort and an incredible hunt. We collected our gear and ourselves and proceeded down the mountain to find our trophy. As we drew near the site where the Kudu last stood, Jaco and Joe fanned out to recover the bull. Fortunately it did not take long, the bullet did its job well and the animal fell right where he had last disappeared. I finally had my Kudu bull! We took the time to congratulate each other, pats on the back and high fives and to reflect on the morning's hunt. Although we had barely known each other, we celebrated like lifelong friends. There is not much better than the camaraderie of a great hunt! Thanks to the patience, perseverance, diligence and keen eyes of Jaco and Joe, this will go down in the memory books as one of my best hunts of all time.
We proceeded to hunt the next five days with the same enthusiasm, excitement and intensity as when we first began the safari. Jaco and Joe worked tirelessly to put me on the animals on my list. Yes we walked and walked! We were on a quest. They knew I was after something special and they would settle for nothing less. They didn't just say, there is a good Impala, take him? We glassed and passed on many good animals, sometimes after a very long stalk. I appreciated their patience and professionalism when it came to selection. I would hunt with these guys anywhere in the world. In addition to the Greater Kudu, we did manage to harvest a great Gemsbuck (Oryx) Bull, an old 26 Inch Blue Wildebeest, a beautiful Zebra, and a large male Baboon. While we had many opportunities on a variety of species, including several 20 plus Impala, we decided to wait for another day.
Kwalata is a vast wilderness that is full of great scenery and trophy animals. If you put in the time, your guides will insure you score the trophies you came to Africa seeking. I'm certain there are similar places in Africa but what makes Kwalata so special is their people. You will not find more gracious and accommodating hosts than Reinhard and Caroline Heuser and the entire Kwalata team. Their willingness to cater to their guests and to arrange anything you might want exemplifies their commitment to providing a superior experience. Mission accomplished!
Rest assured, I'll be back hunting the Kwalata Wilderness with my new friends and of course, with that PH, Jaco Strauss, at the next available opportunity.
Thank you for providing a trip of a lifetime!
Winchester, Virginia, USA