SOUTH AFRICA: Trip Report - browningbbr - East Cape

Discussion in 'Hunting Reports' started by browningbbr, May 23, 2009.

  1. browningbbr

    browningbbr AH Enthusiast

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    My wife and I hunted with Bowker Safaris in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa from May 9th to May 17th, 2009. We arrived at camp in the late afternoon of the 8th and left for home on the morning of the 18th. This was our first safari and first time on the African continent.

    I guess how you would evaluate a hunting trip or safari depends a lot on who you are, your past hunting experiences and what your expectations were before leaving. The outcome of the trip also depends on how and how well you prepare, so here's a little background on us and what we did to get ready for the hunt...

    My wife and I are in our mid-50's and grew up in Iowa. I spent just about every free minute of my youth hunting small game, waterfowl and whitetails. I've spent my entire professional career managing meat processing plants of one sort or another. My wife is a registered nurse and has grown to love the outdoors by spending time afield with me. She likes to hunt, but mostly as a reason to be outdoors seeing and learning about wildlife. Our 3 kids are mostly grown up, but are still in college and graduate schools. We spent the last 26 years raising a family and are now at the point in our lives where we can do some of the things we have always wanted to do.

    I've never really been a trophy hunter. Yes, I have a couple of turkey fans on the wall and mounted duck or two, but getting that 10-point buck has never been a priority for me. I own a bow simply because it gives me a reason to be sitting in the woods for a dozen extra mornings each fall. Ditto for my muzzleloader - it lets spend a few more days hunting after the regular gun season in WI closes. You get the picture. I like to hunt for the sake of hunting - and like most people who have a passion for hunting, the idea of hunting in Africa has always fascinated me.

    When we decided to hunt in Africa and specifically with the Bowkers, it was on the basis of a recommendation of a friend in our gun club. He had hunted on the continent 3 times and one of those hunts was with Bowker Safaris. Based on what he told us, we had several expectations:
    To see a lot of different species of game.
    To hunt on large tracts of land in a fair-chase, ethical manner.
    To hunt with a PH who would teach us a lot because we were novices.
    To get opportunities to take nice trophies.
    To spend time with people that were a lot of fun to be around.

    Our other major expectation was to have as much fun after the hunt each day as we did in the field: Nice dinners, meeting other hunters, BS around the campfire, etc.

    As far as preparation was concerned, we really focused on 5 things:
    Travel and airline requirements.
    What to pack and what not to pack.
    The history and geography of S. Africa and the Eastern Cape.
    Making sure rifles and handloads were as accurate as they could be.
    Making sure our shooting was as accurate as the rifles (practice)

    Several weeks before leaving, I discovered this website and learned a lot more by reading posts and asking advice of the hunters and PH's who use it. 'Just cannot say enough good things about how helpful everyone was.

    After 2 years of preparation and 1-1/2 days of travel (with no real issues - thank goodness), we finally arrived at Bowker Safaris and the fun began!

    Rather than report on the blow-by-blow of each hunt for each animal, I'm going to tell about the things that were most important to us. If you want to know more about the animals we shot, email me. There are also pictures in my gallery. Here goes:

    THE CAMP
    The Bowker ranch (Thorn Kloof) is steeped in Eastern Cape history. Several of the structures date back to the 1840's including the original farmhouse where we stayed. The courtyard, the walls, some of the fences and many of the buildings are built from the native stone and all have the trademark Eastern Cape green metal roofs. All of the grounds and facilities are as modern as you need them to be (en suite) and as period as you want them to be (cannon from the ship their ancestors traveled on in 1820). The lodge is decorated with trophies and is well stocked with after-hunt conversation lubricant! The dining room is similarly decorated and was the site of some of the finest meals we've ever experienced. The fire pit in the center of the courtyard was just the place to hear stories about everyone's hunt and a nightcap. We didn't want to be staying at some spit-and-polish 5-star hotel. We really wanted to be at a truly African hunting camp and that was exactly what we got. Just wonderful!

    THE BOWKERS
    The nicest folks that you could ever want to meet. Not only do they run a very good operation, they are genuinely warm, friendly people. Some days, we were the only hunters in the camp and that gave us the chance to really get to know some of the family. Other days, there were 4 other hunters in camp with their PH's and we got to see them interact with other PH's on a professional level. It was clear, they really know their stuff on hunting and outfitting. It seemed like everyone we met had a lot of respect for the entire family, including the staff of trackers, skinners, maids and cooks - it told us clearly that they are very good people.

    THE RANCH
    I never really did figure out how big the ranch was or how much total land was in the conservancy (several adjoining ranches working together for hunting and animal management) but it was HUGE. This is a working cattle and sheep ranch and we saw herdsmen on horseback checking stock almost every day. The ranch is a mixture of open grass land, and deep wooded gorges surrounded by mountains on each horizon. If anyone ever tells me again that hunting on a ranch in South Africa is just shooting penned up animals, I'm going to kick them in the ___. No question, on a tract this large, every hunt is a fair chase.

    THE ANIMALS
    The least number of game species we saw on any give day was 12. Most days it was a lot more. (This was a huge "WOW" for a couple of people from the Midwest...) In addition to the game, we saw mongoose, marshall eagles, bustards, tortoise, puff adder, etc, etc. The populations of kudu and springbok in the conservancy are so high, they were planning a cull hunt for later in year.

    THE HUNTING
    I started the hunt by telling our PH that taking record book trophies was not a priority for us. His reply: "You are going to shoot animals that will make record books." He wasn't kidding. The hunting was spot-and-stalk and every single attempt was a thrill. I don't have time to relate all of them here, but I wrote down every one of them in my journal at the end of each day so I could remember them for the rest of my life. To me, the hunt (spotting and stalking) is 95% of the enjoyment and the kill is 5%. Every expectation that I had for African hunting was exceeded! Two things will be burned into my memory forever: The first was 9 attempts to stalk the same herd boss impala ram over 4 separate days ending in the one you can see in my gallery page. The second was a 1000+ yard stalk for a kudu bull most of which was down a rocky, steep hillside ending in a 45 degree down-angle shot from 273 yards... yes, it's the one posted too.

    THE PH
    I had to save the best for near the end - our PH was Denham Bowker. Denham is the younger son of Frank Bowker who we learned was one of the pioneers of professional hunting in the Eastern Cape. I'm not sure where to begin in my description of Denham...He's a great hunter and seemed to be able to spot tons of game where we saw none. He's a modest guy, but tells wonderful stories of his past experiences when asked about them. He has great insight when it comes to people and seemed to know intuitively when we needed help, advice, coaching or encouragement. He treated our Tracker and Skinner with respect and it was clear that they respected him (and not because he was the boss.) Denham "made" our hunt. We just could not wait to get into the truck with each morning. He's also a devoted father and it was treat watching his two young daughters "wrap him around their fingers" each morning at the breakfast table. He did an especially good job of getting my wife to be more at ease on her first hunt for larger game.

    A SURPRISE
    One of the days of our safari, we were hunting on a ranch in the conservancy that had been hunted the day prior by the president of Libya (Kadaffi's oldest son). We were about 2 hours into the day and were headed to another hill top for more glassing when one of the ranch hands met up with us and told us that we had to leave right now - Kadaffi Jr had showed back up unannounced! Plus he had brought his 13-man security force with him! Not wanting to be on the wrong end of a stinger missile attack (a lot of folks don't like this SOB), we got the hell out of there in a hurry.

    SUMMARY
    OK, I'm sure it is obvious, this safari was way better than I had ever dreamed it could be - for me anyway. Here's what my wife thought about it: On the plane ride from J'burg to Washington, she told me, "When we go back, it needs to be for at least 15 days. 9 days of hunting is just not enough and don't even think about getting the 7mm back, I'm keeping it."

    browningbbr
     
  2. TOM

    TOM AH Elite

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    Great report. Sounds like a wonderful trip.
     
  3. Calhoun

    Calhoun AH Enthusiast

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    Sounds like a great trip & some wonderful trophies to boot!! My next trip to Africa will more than likely be to the Eastern Cape! I will have to keep this place in mind as it sounds like a Class Act!!
     
  4. Shallom

    Shallom AH Enthusiast

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    Thanks for sharing your great african safari experience bwana. Well done on a wonderful collection of trophies, sharing the african continent with your wife and realising a dream. Cheers,
     
  5. AfricaHunting.com

    AfricaHunting.com FOUNDER AH Ambassador

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    Thank you for sharing in detail the many facets of your trip. :thumb:
     
  6. Thunder head

    Thunder head AH Enthusiast

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    Thats awsome,
    As i have learned more about africa the eastern cape seems to be a place everyone needs to visit.

    Do you have more pics of the camp and the surrounding terrain etc. ?
     
  7. browningbbr

    browningbbr AH Enthusiast

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    Camp & Geography

    Thunder head: Yes, I do have many pictures of both. When I get some time, I'll post a few of them. I'm still trying to figure out how to use some of the tools on this site, so I'll have to spend some time reading the instructions. :headscratch: I shot most of the photos at 10MP, so I have to resize the files...
     
  8. browningbbr

    browningbbr AH Enthusiast

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    Notes after the fact...

    Last night, I was looking at the notes that I kept during this trip - things that I wanted to remember for the next trip - maybe they could be of help to others, so I'll pass them along:

    STUFF TO TAKE NEXT TIME:
    I-Pod Touch or other very SMALL wireless device. 'Could have used this during the multiple layovers in airports to stay in touch with the kids, check news, etc. All had Wi-Fi hotspots. My wife could have used it on day trips because cafe's had access too.

    Bino's for my wife. We only took one pair. Oops.

    Two pair of LIGHTWEIGHT boots. Took one pair of light and one heavy-soled pair - didn't need the heavy boots/extra weight

    More cigars, didn't take enough - good for sharing with others and not heavy to carry

    STUFF NOT TO TAKE NEXT TIME:
    2 rifles, not 3 - dumb - my wife's 7mm would have been OK for all the animals I shot and vice versa for her animals. Only one of us was hunting at a time anyway

    Range finder - the PH's was better than mine, so I didn't use it

    less bullets - didn't need 2/3rds of them

    cleaning kit - didn't shoot enough shots to clean guns, can wait until we get home

    shooting sticks - PH's were better than mine

    WHAT TO CHANGE:
    Don't pack locked steel ammo boxes inside of checked clothing bags - TSA busted them open to inspect and ruined the latches - buy a doscocil or pelican case for ammo only and put it through as a checked bag with recessed TSA locks

    Don't use TSA locks on the gun cases - they are not needed and are too fragile - even the 1/4" thick shackle TSA locks got busted to pieces by the baggage handlers

    WHAT NOT TO CHANGE:
    Barnes TSX bullets worked beautifully - use the same handloads for the next trip

    Use Air2000 for firearms permitting - did a great job and completely avoided hassles at J'burg

    Use Gracy travel for booking flights - did a great job when SAA cancelled a flight 2 weeks before the trip - Gracy rep met us at J'burg and got us to our next flight and helped with advice

    Stay with do-all gun cases - they are heavy, but guns and gear arrived in great shape despite the locks being pounded to pieces by baggage handlers - saw another hunter's SKB case smashed through

    .300 RSAUM was PLENTY of gun for plains game - ditto for Judy's 7mm Rem Mag - take both again - leave .30-06 at home
     
  9. enysse

    enysse AH Ambassador

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    Bob you are great hunter! You are also lucky to have married the right woman in Judy. I loved your description of the hunt. I'm glad your going for a longer visit next time. You are also correct that Denham is a great Ph! He lived in the U.S. for a while and his ethusiasm for the hunt is unparallel. The pet dogs on the property made you feel at home. And I like Frank a lot too. I'm very happy to have got my bontebok with him.
     
  10. browningbbr

    browningbbr AH Enthusiast

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    Enysse - It's good to see that you are back. How was the remainder of your hunt?
     
  11. Larry Mikelsen

    Larry Mikelsen New Member

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    Thorn Kloof

    Read your hunt report with great interest. My wife and I hunted with the Bowkers April/May 2008. Your thoughts and comments are right on. What a great group folks to deal and hunt with. We found "zero" surprises. I had Meyrick Bowker for my PH, but spoke with Denham every day also. We all swapped stories around the fire every night over beer and everyone's favorite adult beverage. They and their father Frank are good hunters, and work to please their client. All gentleman. Jenny, their mom, runs the home front and all goes smoothly. I took 10 animals on my 10 day hunt. We were in Africa for 21 days, and have decided that was about 7 days too short! LOL! Hunting was fantastic, ranch accomodations excellent, and hospitality "first cabin". Sort of got used to that daily laundry service. The Bowkers are pretty easy to recommend for a hunt.

    Did you carve your name into the bar?

    Larry Mikelsen
     
  12. browningbbr

    browningbbr AH Enthusiast

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    Larry - I was tempted to carve our names into the bar, but saw the names of my buddy and his (ex)wife, so I figured it was bad luck! Do you remember seeing "Fred and Wende"? That's them.

    My wife Judy (who knows Fred) must have picked up on the same thought because one evening she said, "...and now it's Fred and Heidi..." That was the same evening she was looking at the rug in the lodge and told me "You have to shoot a zebra! I want a rug just like this one."

    What a good wife. I'd hate to lose a hunting partner, so no bar carving for me.

    For everyone else - if you are planning to take your wife along on the hunt, I highly recommend Bowker Safaris. Regardless of her experience level, the Bowkers will do a great job of making her feel comfortable as a hunter in the field and welcome in the camp.
     
  13. monish

    monish AH Elite

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    Browningbbr,

    You had a great hunt ! nicely written report .
    thanks for sharing it all .

    Monish
     

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