BOTSWANA: Tholo Hunt 2018

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It's been about a month and a half since I got back and it has taken me this long to put together the beginnings of my hunt report. Silly things like work and household responsibility have been occupying me. Here's the start of it.

Tholo 2018


The Plan
This year started with one singular objective, a GIANT kudu. The number and size of the kudu at Tholo had impressed me the previous year. Given that I was hunting solo, I thought what better chance would I ever have to focus on the kudu of a lifetime?? I had been communicating with my PH, Riaan, for a few weeks and had let him know what he was in for and of course he was all in.

One pleasant sidebar this year was that I would be sharing camp with a fellow AH member. @cooper552 We booked our trips separately and discovered we would be in camp together through a few comments here on the forum. Though we had been communicating for a few months we only just met at the airport. As much as I enjoy traveling alone it’s always nice to meet new people with like interests. A great guy for sure and I can easily see us sharing another camp sometime in the future. Hopefully he will share his story as well.

The Travel
Delta 200 was uneventful.

My usual stop at the Intercontinental OR Tambo was pleasant.

Air Botswana took good care of me the following day and when we arrived in Maun we were greeted in customs by our inside guy, MT, who moved us through without much of a problem.

The last leg of our journey did have a couple of interesting aspects worth sharing. We were picked up at the airport by Steffan, a young PH from Tholo. A pleasant guy to be sure and best of all he quickly agreed to take care of our request for a beverage with “a bit more octane” than the bottled water he offered as we started out. It was Sunday so it took us a few stops to find somewhere “open”. I use the word “open” very loosely because at one point before entering the building he came back to the truck in search of a Leatherman. Armed with the necessary equipment he returned to the building and the “employees” supervised while he worked on opening the door. After making his way in he emerged with an adequate supply of frosty beverages and we were off again. He explained that the need for the Leatherman stemmed from the fact that the keys didn’t seem to work. He also had to talk the young lady through the in’s and out’s of currency exchange. He assured us that all was well and we were not in danger of being pursued.
:D Beers:

As the conversation progressed he asked us the inevitable question “so what are you guys after this year”? At this we took turns over the next few miles sharing our respective plans. Something I have not yet mentioned is that in addition to my main objective I had a score to settle with the slipperiest, most elusive warthog in all of Africa. I shared this with my new friend and as I detailed how the offensive little swine had managed to make a fool of me the previous year a very inquisitive look came across his face. This look eventually transformed into a VERY proud grin. Just then he began describing the area where my pig hung out in great detail. I knew something was up, then came the final knife in the heart, “I shot that pig”. He proudly recounted how the pig had achieved celebrity status in camp after my trip last year and every PH around had been after him. As it so often happens with animals like this he and his client just happened across him one day and all the circumstances played in their favor. Just like that “my” pig was dead. No hard feelings of course but I had great fun with this for the remainder of the week.

Greetings and pleasantries were all around when we rolled into camp. Most of the faces were familiar but there were also some that I didn’t recognize. I was pleased to look towards the back and see Charles smiling back at me. I met and hunted with him my last time here and was happy to learn that he would be joining my adventure again. He is simply the best tracker I have ever met and had the pleasure of hunting with.

The Hunting

Day 1
The first day was warm and overcast with only a slight chance of rain in the forecast. A quick stop to prove the rifle and we were off. Riaan said we would concentrate our efforts out on the cattle property. This land is not actually part of the Tholo reserve but is owned by several different cattlemen who all allow Tholo to hunt. It’s generally more open than the main body of the reserve and game is not as plentiful BUT there are some really nice kudu to be found there. Our crew consisted of Lagos at the wheel, Riaan and I in the main seats, and our trackers, Charles and Oupa were bringing up the rear with their binocular eyes. Just as the excitement of the first day was starting to wane and we were settled in the clouds opened up and it started to flood. That’s right boys and girls, I had just traveled 10,000 miles to earn the distinction of being one of only two people I know to ever get rained out in the middle of the Kalahari Desert…………….go figure.

We were able to salvage the latter part of the afternoon and as usual there was no shortage of game. We spotted multiple kudu bulls but none of the class I was looking for.

Day 2
The skies were completely overcast as we started the long drive out to this morning. The miles and hours seemed to pass quickly as the day progressed. We would come across a bull and do our best to assess him from the truck. A couple of times we gave chase only to decide he wasn’t what we were after. To his credit Riaan never pressed the issue no matter what the bull looked like. In all fairness, I had not been able to give him an exact description of what I was looking for. All I had told him was that I would know when the right one stepped out. Based on this I suppose he was at a bit of a disadvantage, yet he never complained or begged for a better description. He had conceded to deliver his best guess on the length and leave the rest up to me. As much as I liked this arrangement I couldn’t help but feel like I owed him a better description. I just couldn’t find the right words. We worked hard all day but my dream bull never gave us a glimpse.

Day 3
This day started with promise. No real chance of rain and we could see a nearly cloudless sky as we pulled away from camp. During our conversations over the last couple of days I had reminded Riaan that I would consider ANY animal of ANY species if he deemed it to be something special. I suppose he may have had this in mind when he directed our driver towards the main body of the reserve.

Riaan’s tap on the side of the truck brought us to a rolling stop. He suggested that we go for a walk which I knew to mean there was an area close by that usually held plenty of game. We struck out and after about a mile of leisurely walking the pace gradually slowed to a more appropriate stalking pace. The procession was Charles, Oupa, Riaan, and I was bringing up the rear. A sudden stop told me someone had spotted something. Even though I know better than to break ranks and chance widening our frontal profile I couldn’t help myself when I stuck my head out from behind Riaan’s right shoulder. As I was doing my best turkey impression stretching my neck and straining my eyes to see what was so interesting I forgot the number one rule in these situations. If the animal is not readily visible then figure out where everybody else is looking then follow suit. As this dawned on me Riaan nudged me to reality and whispered “that is a hell of a wildebeest”. I finally caught on that he was standing in the shadows about 120 yards directly to our left. The sticks were already going up and I needed no further explanation of what was happening. As the rifle found it’s place in the V of the sticks he coached me that he was facing directly at us and I should aim an inch or two below his nose. The gloom made it difficult to pick out much detail but I managed to resolve enough of to satisfy me. The push of the 375 did not completely disrupt my sight picture but it didn’t matter. The thump of the big round was as clear as a bass drum. As wildebeest so often do he gave a slight wince, spun around on one foot, and disappeared as if he had only been grazed. Our group exploded with smiles and congratulations. We all heard the thump.

I find few things more satisfying than the sound a well-placed 375 round makes when it hits home.

A short stroll yielded my trophy. As we got close Riaan explained that there are far fewer 30” wildebeest taken than 60” kudu. This got my attention because the only reason he may be mentioning this is if there was a chance he might make 30”. :A Hey: I’ve taken a half dozen or so wildebeest and had all but dismissed the idea of ever taking another one as a trophy but this one was exceptional. As we admired him we all decided that he would be mighty close to 30” but not quite. An incredible trophy that I’m quite proud of. I must mention that Charles was pleased with my shooting and congratulated me many times. The bullet had creased the end of his nose and bottom lip then took him dead center of the chest. It took out the top of the heart, split the liver, and ended up in his rear end. They are tough animals. Much respect.

IMG_3441.JPG
IMG_3442.JPG
IMG_3445.JPG


The remainder of the morning was uneventful.

That afternoon we were not far from camp when we started to see a few kudu cows. This always had us on alert because the rut was just starting and the bulls were never far away. Sure enough there he was, the widest kudu bull I had ever laid eyes on and he was only about a hundred yards from the road. A gorgeous bull that most anyone would be thrilled to have. Riaan looked at me as if to ask “well”?? I knew enough about judging kudu at this point that despite his width and perceived length his curls were not very deep. He was just not the one I was looking for. His best guess on the length was 55” or 56”. He admitted that he was surprised I didn’t want to give him a go. This is when the words finally hit me to sum up what I was looking for. This bull was impressive to say the least but he did not make me say “HOLY SH+T”!! That’s exactly what I told him we were after. He gave me a nod of understanding and off we went.

We didn’t have to wait long for just such an encounter, maybe an hour. Out of nowhere we passed a gap in the bush and maybe 75 yards off the road was the most magnificent bull I’ve ever seen. A quick glance between Riaan and I acknowledged that this was it. The truck continued for a few hundred yards and stopped. We all dismounted in a hurry, took a moment to check the wind, and make a plan. We picked up his track fairly quickly. After following for only a few hundred yards Charles stopped to have a word with Riaan and rechecked the wind. I knew something was up and the wind was swirling terribly. We continued for a few more minutes and stopped. Riaan told me that the bull had not yet stopped running and the chances of catching up with him after this far were almost nonexistent. With this we called off the chase.

Encounters with a bull of this caliber is why I came here. They just do not grow them like this everywhere. A really good kudu can be like a ghost and will seldom make a mistake. After all, he did not grow that big being dumb. Another note on this particular bull was that his body alone was enough to give me a proper reason to go after him. He was something special.

To be continued..............................

BD
 
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cpr0312

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Been looking forward to this report! Congrats on a nice wildebeest, look forward to more!
 

375 Ruger Fan

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Congrats on the excellent Blue Wildebeest! Save to say you've grabbed our attention. Anxiously awaiting the rest of the report and hopefully a photo of a monster kudu.
 

vancewalker007

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That's a great old looking Wildebeest. What a perfect trophy and at the end of a great stalk with your feet in the dirt.
 

GA Hunter

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Thanks gents. This was just one of several surprises on this trip. Working to get the rest done in the next couple of days.
 

BRICKBURN

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Yup, anytime you get a Monster of any species you have to appreciate it.
Congrats.
 

gillettehunter

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Great wilderbeast. Nice shooting. Excited to read the rest of the story!
Bruce
 

JES Adventures

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Excellent Wildebeast @GA Hunter, I can't wait to read the rest of the report. Tholo has a great reputation for big kudu so hopefully you connected with one.
 

Wheels

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Good BW. Looking forward to the rest of your report.
 

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That was a great start !
 

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Day 4

Day 4 started out just like every other day until…...along about 8:00 the stars must’ve been in some sort of alignment. We rolled up to one of the cattle gates just like we had dozens of times each day. I glanced over the rail of the truck and noticed a large, hubcap sized impression in the sandy soil. The truck began rolling forward as I was trying to decide what a rhino was doing so far out from the main property. A second track was apparent just on the other side of the 4 stranded fence. Knowing that rhinos aren’t exactly famous for stepping over anything it occurred to me this is an elephant track. OK, I know there are a few of you out there rolling your eyes at my mistake but the thought of an elephant being in the area was the furthest thing from my mind. While I was still letting this sink in Riaan and everyone else in the vehicle were chattering back and forth like a flock of birds. I have seen my fair share of wild elephants so I did not understand the excitement in everyone’s voice. Riaan finally turned his attention to me and told me that this was the track of a fully mature bull. He went on to explain that if we saw him there was a good chance we would be allowed to shoot him as a nuisance animal. As he blabbered on for a few more seconds I honestly didn’t hear any of it. My mind was too caught up in trying to figure out what he meant by “we”. My question cut him off mid-sentence, “Wait, wait, wait! What exactly do you mean when you say we can shoot him?” He grinned and acknowledged that indeed I could do the shooting but there would be no trophy. He went on to tell me that these type elephants are considered a nuisance due to the inevitable destruction they will do on the property. All that is normally necessary is a quick call to the local game office to give them a heads up and ask for a recommendation.

Hmmm. Things just got a lot more interesting gentlemen.

The Cruiser started forward and I kept firing question after question. We hadn’t even laid eyes on the old boy and I already wanted to know what the recovery would consist of. (What a rookie.) He was polite and did a great job of pacifying my enthusiasm. After a couple of miles the always calm and soft spoken Oupa reached towards us with one hand and started pointing to the bush with the other. His tone was elevated and I did not understand a word he said but I knew exactly what he meant. My eyes went in the direction he was pointing and without any trouble I picked out the large grey form standing well above the surrounding bush. No PH pedigree or training was necessary to tell that this guy was big. He was standing still and slightly quartering away from left to right. The car hood sized ears were slowly moving back and forth as he shifted his weight from side to side. He seemed very content and unaware or possibly uncaring about our presence. Either way he did not look like he was going anywhere.

Riaan immediately got on the radio to Clive to let him know what was going on. He told us he would make the call to the game office and report back as soon as they gave him a verdict.

We continued to keep an eye on him and all the while I was straining to see ivory. His body position and ears kept the lip concealed for the longest time. When he finally pinned his ears back it was obvious there was nothing on his right side. This did not change my disposition in the least. As far as I was concerned this opportunity could turn out to be an incredible gift from the good Lord. During this time we hatched a plan to get Riaan a suitable gun and me a fistful of solids for my 375. If he stayed put through all that we had a solid strategy to get to him. After about 30 or 45 minutes the radio crackled with Clive’s voice. My heart was in my throat as I listened intently. The conversation went on for several minutes in Afrikaans so I didn’t understand any of it. Then came the one word I could pick out, “helicopter”. My heart sank. Though I did not understand another word of the conversation I knew what this meant. As he returned the mic to Lagos, Riaan looked at me with a disappointed expression and confirmed that the game office said they would take care of it. Their plan was to call in a helicopter and drive the animal from the property back onto the government lands. We all knew this was a temporary fix at best but there was no choice but to heed their wishes and move on. We bid our farewells to the old boy and moved back to our primary task.

In retrospect this was an unexpected thrill. Just the prospect of the chance to hunt an elephant was more than enough to excite me. Then throw in the circumstances and I was on cloud nine for a while. Nothing from nothing still leaves nothing, even in the wild of Botswana. One final note on this chapter is that by the time we left 4 days later no helicopter had been dispatched………………………
 

PHOENIX PHIL

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One final note on this chapter is that by the time we left 4 days later no helicopter had been dispatched………………………

Why do I feel like I just got setup? :sneaky:

Looking forward to seeing a big kudu!
 

BRICKBURN

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You did get to hunt an Elephant. You just didn't get to shoot one.
That adrenaline rush pretty well says it all.

Where the heck are the pictures man!?
 

CAustin

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Yep you really did hunt elephant for a little while. Good story so please keep it coming.
 

cpr0312

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Thats exciting that you were on the elephant for a while!
 

jacques smith

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Damn man you had me going. Neat bumping into him. Did he have one tusk or not. I agree with pictures but I fully approve of passing kudu till the holy shit appears
 

cooper552

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I really enjoyed sharing my first trip with you. I am still working on putting my into words.
 

cagkt3

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Wow, what an experience! Looking forward to the rest
 

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