SOUTH AFRICA: 14 Days In Kwa-Zulu Natal A First Timer's Journey

Discussion in 'Hunting Reports Africa' started by Big Country, Dec 30, 2014.

  1. Big Country

    Big Country AH Senior Member

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    Alright Gentlemen and ladies, and all of the rest of you miscreants ;)

    After arriving home from our adventure of a lifetime, I compiled the notes I had from our safari. I really wanted an account of not only the daily goings on, but the things I saw and felt throughout the trip. I wanted to have a full account to share with my grandkids someday when I am old and gray and the details have faded from memory. The end product ended up a bit long, but reads a little like a story, and my lovely wife (Mrs. Country) has encouraged me to share it with all of you. For those of you wanting a short synopsis, this probably isn't it. For those of you looking for a long, detailed read, grab a glass of something cold, and hopefully enjoy...




    Safari, Really?


    One hot summer’s day, I found myself relaxing under the big maple in our front yard. The love of my life was sitting beside me enjoying a cold drink. Our 1 year old was crawling around, exploring her new world, happily babbling at the birds. My love turned to me and said calmly “I think we should go on safari to Africa” silence followed, she took a sip of her lemonade and with a thoughtful look said “Mmm Hmm, Africa”. I nearly fell off my chair….

    After I caught my breath and the heart palpitations stopped, I asked my wife, do you really mean this? Are we really going to look into this? Can I get this in writing?

    I should preface this with the fact that we were having a conversation at the time about relatives, life goals, and how waiting until retirement doesn’t always work out like you think. We both liked the idea of going while we were under 40, rather than over 60. It sounded like the best way to get the “Whole Experience”

    I have been a hunter since the ripe old age of 12 or so. My father brought me along hunting pheasants, squirrels, and rabbits on Saturday afternoons in September until the deer and duck hunters took over the woodlots and swamps in October and November. Since then I have hunted nearly everything that walked, or flew in the Midwest. I had read stories of great white hunters pursuing strange and dangerous beasts on a continent 9000 miles away. I always assumed that this was a pursuit of the rich and didn’t even dare to dream of it. With a home, marriage and family, gone are the days of hunting every weekend from September until March. I don’t regret the change; I simply enjoy the memories of the old times. Times when I went hunting simply because I had nothing better to do. Now days my hunting trips are further between, but are longer trips to further destinations.


    Concept

    Years before while in my early twenties, and working as a laborer for an excavating company, I had the privilege to meet a truly worldly hunter. In the process of excavating for an addition on his newly remodeled 1880’s farm house I began this journey called safari. During the hottest part of the summer we took breaks in his “Clubhouse”. This was an old granary that had been cleaned up a bit, but still had its original slat wood floor and walls. Inside, covering the walls, couches, and floors, were skulls, skins, and shoulder mounts of a hundred animals I had never seen before. We spent hours after work talking about Africa, hunting and travel. He explained how a 2 week African plains game safari could actually be more affordable than a week long guided elk hunt in Colorado. 5 or 7 animals for the same price as one seemed like a good deal, but still way out of reach at the time. He told me if I ever had the urge or the means to go, to just drop him a line. To be honest, I didn’t think much of it at the time. Fast forward 15 years…I had no idea if he would remember me, but I finally decided to take him up on his offer.

    We met with Walt & Darci in late summer of 2013 to discuss the possibility of an African safari. Over several glasses of wine we discussed the opportunities to be had in various African countries from hunting to sightseeing. We toured their trophy barn, and I’m sure we gaped like fools at all the trophies.

    My personal favorites were an absolute giant of a Lord Derby Eland, and a Forest Bongo. Both are hunts that are not for the sightseer, faint of heart, or wife, I’m afraid. Ten miles + of walking in the tepid rain soaked bush a day in temps soaring past 85 with humidity in the 70-80 percent range just didn’t sound like fun to her. I can’t imagine why?

    Walt & Darci recommended a more realistic first time adventure in the way of taking a plains game safari to either Namibia or South Africa. They recommended an east Africa style tented camp with 1X1 hunting. Meaning one hunter to one PH. (As it turns out, the tented camp has become a bit of a white elephant in the Natal province, and is seldom offered today.) After further discussion they recommended three PH’s that operate in the Kwa-Zulu Natal province of South Africa. Leo & Tish Van Rooyen of Leo Van Rooyen Safaris. Willem and Amanda Basson of Zeekoepan Safaris. And Anton Marais of Northern Zululand Safaris.

    Walt advised that I absolutely could not hunt Natal without taking a bull Nyala. This was a must have when hunting in Natal. They are endemic (naturally occurring) and the biggest trophies in the world are taken there. He has two life sized mounts and we looked at them extensively.


    The Gun

    In the fall of 2013 I spent many hours researching guns, ammunition, and reading the hundreds of posts and articles titled “Which rifle for safari?” I am a bit of a traditionalist, and thought if I’m going to Africa, I want a gun and caliber that says ”Africa”. I settled on a 375 H&H magnum. The 375 seems to be considered the granddaddy of African safari cartridges, and also the minimum caliber for dangerous game most everywhere. Mostly looked at as a “cannon” in the states, it is considered an old standard, and quite tame in Africa. Our American enthusiasm for fire breathing magnums with ultra-high velocities and laser-flat trajectories is not shared by those residing on the Dark Continent. I had a 7MM Rem Mag, but it just didn’t seem like the right thing to bring on safari. I knew the .375 might be a little much for plains game, but the traditionalist side of me won out. Once I had settled on the caliber, I set off to find the gun. I was working in a rather narrow section of the price market,($2000 or under) and as such, had only a few options. I also wanted the look of a proper express rifle, big iron sites, heavy barrel. There would be no muzzle breaks, stainless steel barrels or black stocks. I was looking for a gun that had some safari character. The English Whitworth Express rifles were plentiful and could easily be had for $1000. I handled a few of these and they seemed to be a decent representative of the low end express rifle, but just didn’t turn my crank. The CZ 550 had gotten very good reviews and there were used rifles aplenty. I handled several, but didn’t particularly like the reverse safety, and mostly because of that I did not pursue the CZ. Another widely available used express rifle was the post 64 (push feed) Model 70. They were plentiful and in my price range. I liked the look of the model 70’s and found one with an HS precision stock in a safari olive drab that I liked the look of. I called HS Precision and spoke to them about their stock and how it may have been bedded. They were more than happy to talk to me about the aluminum bedding block nestled in the synthetic stock, and that I should not be concerned about a poor bedding job. This stock was a free floated design that was drop in, bolt in, design. I had the rifle transferred from the Cabelas gun library in Dundee Michigan, to my local store in Rogers, MN. Close inspection showed it to be nearly flawless. $1200 with a quality set of quick detach rings, plus Cabelas made me pay $30 to ship the rifle to MN. Much to my irritation they were absolutely unwilling to budge on the price. Not a dollar. I worked on them for two hours and they wouldn’t even cover the shipping. I understand that you will never get a “deal” on anything from a Cabelas gun library, but I at least expected them to cover the $30 store to store transfer fee on a $1200 purchase. It was explained to me that they charge 40% over what they paid out, period. Another annoyance was the absolute lack of ammo in the store. They only had two boxes of PRVI Partisan ammo in the store. This ammo in 375 H&H has gotten terrible reviews, with misfires and rounds failing to chamber happening with 10-15% of the ammo in any given box. New gun, no bullets, GRRR... I did not leave particularly happy, and am not sure I would buy from a Cabelas gun library again. In the end, they had the rifle I wanted, so I bought it.

    Craigslist being the wonderful thing that it is, provided me with a Zeiss Conquest 3-9x42 in a German #4 reticle for $300. The previous owner said it was mounted on a Sako Finnbear elk rifle, and saw some work at the range, but never made it to the Elk woods.


    Research

    In November of 2013 we contacted all three safari companies and obtained info and pricing. Pricing between them was different, but similar. Higher daily rates and lower trophy fees, and vice versa. Zeekoepan followed up with us the most consistently, followed by Leo Van Rooyen. Anton Marais’s follow-up was spotty at best.

    After some research we decided to look into mostly early September booking dates. The airline cost is far less after September 1st than in July or August and early September is still considered prime hunting time.

    In early February of 2013 we talked over finances and family planning stuff and we decided to postpone safari until 2015 or 2016 pending the next baby

    We considered attending the SCI World Expo in Las Vegas to meet with Anton Marais, but decided that the $1000 price tag was too much

    We considered meeting Leo Van Rooyen in Houston Texas, but again the travel costs were again prohibitive. He actually called us when he got into the states and invited us to Texas.

    We attended the Minneapolis SCI event in early march of 2014 and met with Willem and Amanda Basson for several hours the following day. After the meeting we fully intended to book with them for 2015 or 2016. All of our questions were answered, and we felt that we came away as friends.

    When it became apparent that this might actually happen, I started researching “deals”. I became a member of an online site called africahunting.com. It quickly became apparent that the animals I wanted to hunt could be had for much less than the quotes we were receiving, but at an apparent cost to quality. I.e. Many groups of hunters in camp, multiple PH’s working the same concessions, Having to share the attention of the camp staff, lack of side trip opportunities unless otherwise booked with a separate travel guide. After much discussion, we decided that the more intimate experience of being the only hunters in camp, and the singular focus of the PH and staff was worth the extra cost. Walt & Darci emphasized how important it is to have the singular attention of the PH and staff for a really quality experience, especially on a first trip. The availability of side trips (fishing, sightseeing) under the standard price umbrella also helped us make our decision.

    Holy Sh!$% This is really happening!

    In late march of 2014, with no baby currently on the way, and no real reason we couldn’t go, we kind of fell into the decision to “Pull the Trigger” on our safari. Of course the 24 month savings plan would have to be accelerated significantly, but child care and a number of other things came together to make fall of 2014 our prime dates for safari.

    After some consideration, we decided to really get to planning our safari for the fall of 2014. We both had approved vacation starting 10 September, and decided that if one of the recommended outfitters had dates open around that time that we would book. With some heartache, but not surprisingly, Zeekoepan had a full schedule. Anton Marais had multiple dates open, but none that coincided with our September dates. Leo Van Rooyen had several sets of dates in the prime months, and one exactly overlapped our approved vacations. Arrival September 12th and depart September 23rd

    The first week in April of 2014 we both began the process of contacting our employers to discuss vacation approvals, contacting the grandma’s, and Julia’s girlfriends to discuss taking care of our daughter, and really looking at the finances. Things began to really fall into place without much work at all. It seemed like it was meant to be.

    On April 4th we made the decision to book with Leo and Tish Van Rooyen and wire transferred a deposit of $4390. I also contacted Lori Spears of Travel Express to put together a travel package for us from MSP to RCB and back.

    On April 6th Lori responded with a best price package that included all air travel for $1870.70 per person. After some research, we decided to book the City Lodge hotel in the OR Tambo airport for our overnight layover in Johannesburg.

    April 8th I forwarded a list of questions and some background info on us to Tish Van Rooyen

    On April 9th I booked and paid for the air flights with Lori from Travel Express. She reserved our seats for all 6 flights. Side by side with one window for the shorter flights, and front to back window seats for the two long flights.

    April 10th I found my passport, and wrote down all the gun and ammo info for Leo and emailed it so they can draft an official invite to RSA hunting letter.

    April 14th I received emails from Air 2000 Hunters support. We are considering using their services for a full meet and greet in addition to their gun importing services. Lots of forms to fill out and mail off. No word back from travel express on a confirmed itinerary yet, also no answers to the long question list yet. I spoke to Walt about some payment details and he asked about my trophy list. I told him about my desire for really excellent Kudu and Nyala bulls, a nice tall and wide impala ram, zebra and possibly a warthog. He approved very much but suggested that I add a blue wildebeest and a springbuck if given the chance.

    April 19th Julia and I had our first shooting practice session. I worked with her on gun safety, and shooting mechanics for about two hours. We put about 70 rounds downrange from a .22 Mag and 10 or so from a .22-250. Her shooting mechanics were much better than I thought they might be, hitting 100% of her shots from 60 yards on a 4x6 steel target. The .22-250 is a closer approximation to my .375 in weight, and I wanted to step her up in muzzle blast and recoil slowly. We both worked on staying in the scope after the initial shot, tracking our target, cycling the action, and firing follow up shots rapidly. We did all of our shooting off the sticks. This was a first for both of us, and it took a little bit of getting used to. I made a trip to the lumber yard and had improvised a set from 6’ pieces of 1.25” curtain rod and some parachute cord for the tripod lashing. A little sanding and some stain, and they almost looked the part. Our neighbors were probably wondering about us a little. Not knowing of our travel plans, they must have wondered at the two of us “Stalking” around our yard, one behind the other, setting up a little tripod, and shooting off it. Good fun!

    April 29th After much research Julia and I decided on a second set of binoculars. We compared my Steiner Outfitter to Zeiss Conquest HD and Nikon Monarch 7. The Monarch 7’s seemed to be the best value, and we ordered them. Our safari planning is coming together nicely. The financial side is going well with Julia being lucky enough to pick up bonus shifts and some holiday double-time. With luck my summer will include a hundred hours of OT or so and we’ll be in good shape. We shopped for and picked up our carry-on luggage /Safari rucksacks at Eddie Bauer this week also. We have done a little shopping for Digital cameras, but have not settled on a specific model yet.

    June 5th Just before our June fishing vacation we purchased a new digital camera. We settled on an FZ200. We have played with it a little, but need to a lot more before we go. I sent off the Steiner’s, and they were back within 2 weeks fully repaired no questions asked. Julia has been slowly accumulating safari clothes that she finds at Savers. I have nearly everything I need so far with the purchase of 2 long sleeved olive army shirts from Fleet Farm.

    June 5th Julia and I had our second shooting session. I set a paper target at 40 yds, 1 gal propane’s at 60 yds, 8” steel gong at 100 yds, 13’ steel gongs at 150 and 200 yds. Julia surprised me again, hitting consistently at 100 and pretty good at 150. We both struggled at 200 off the sticks. I finally got the courage to sight in my 375. The 260 gr. Nosler’s patterned very well. Off the bench with a sled I shot the bore sighted rifle at 40 yds. 8 inches low and right, not too bad for bore sighting. Julia helped me dial into the hole and the second shot was right at the bottom of the 1.25” bull’s-eye. Backed up to 100 yds and the hole was into the top of the bull’s-eye. At 150 dead on, at 200 about 5-6” of drop. Surprisingly repeatable for a large caliber. We shot about a hundred rounds of 22 mag, 20 rounds of 22-250 and 5 rounds of 375.

    July 16th I am getting things ready to take to US Customs and Immigration for the certification of our form 4457 to declare possessions. I will be taking my rifle, binoculars, phones, and i-pad to the Humphrey terminal this Friday. This should be the last step before sending off all the info to air 2000 for our pre-permitting process.

    July 18th Customs was a breeze at the office in the Humphrey terminal. I attracted a lot of attention sitting alone in the terminal with a gun case waiting for the customs office to open though. We got 4457 forms filled out for all our electronics, binocs, rifle, and scope. It took about an hour.

    July 22nd Went to Cabelas over the weekend and dropped $500 on safari stuff. Mostly on 4 pairs of zip off pants, tsa locks, binoc harnesses, and a box of 375 h&H shells. We also found a bunch of stuff in the bargain cave that could be worn on safari. We are getting ready to send over all our documentation to Air 2000 this week. The postal service in RSA is not functioning at this time and they recommended using DHL for point to point delivery @ $109 Last thing left to buy is an ammo box, forgot this at Cabelas the other day.

    September 3rd Safari is a week away! I have been shooting the 375 off the sticks every few days using 300 gr sp. The big soft points really slap when they hit the 1” steel plates. All of our gear and clothes is in order, and final packing will be happening this weekend.

    September 9th we had a couple of hiccups with the wire transfer but managed to get $5000 transferred to Leo before we left




    September 10th Day 1

    P1030558.JPG
    Travel

    5 am alarms go off and we are up and headed for our 9am flight in Minneapolis.

    The flight from Minneapolis to Dulles was uneventful after my parents dropped us off. We had a nice meal at Chipotle in Dulles airport 4 hours before boarding our South African airlines flight to Johannesburg via Dakar. The flight was long, but bearable. SAA had really good food and served three in-flight meals which were of moderate size, good quality, and lots of variety.


    September 11th Day 2


    More Travel

    We landed in Johannesburg at 5pm local time and met our representative from Air 2000. He wore a suit, spoke fluent English, and walked us through a completely painless customs, immigration, and passport control with a minimum of effort and time. There was a rather tense conversation between him and a woman from the world health organization at the customs desk. I’m not sure if they were speaking Afrikaans or Zulu, but it was clear they were not happy with one another. I have no idea what was said but in the end we got to pass. He walked us all the way to the hotel front desk and we said our goodbyes and thank you. Money well spent, for the first trip anyhow...


    We had dinner at the City Lodge restaurant. They had a somewhat limited menu, but the food was very good. Julia and I split an order of mack and cheese and an open faced chicken sandwich with a glass of wine. I had a Hunters extra dry cider. It went down nicely, and I tolerated it well. Julia later enjoyed a long soak in the huge tub in our room, while I read a little. We were pretty exhausted and hit the sack about 8:30. We both woke up at 12 midnight and had trouble falling asleep again. Some sleeping pills did the trick, and we both drifted off, but had trouble getting going in the morning.

    South Africa 004.JPG


    September 12th Day 3


    It Begins!

    5 am wakeup call and we are headed through the Johannesburg airport to check in for our regional flight to Richards Bay. We were immediately bothered by two very unofficial looking airport workers that appeared to be baggage handlers. Along the way to the check in counter, we picked up at least one more. The gate agents, saps officers, skycaps/ baggage handlers were all relentless in demanding bribes, to the point that Julia became quite rattled. “A little something for the boys?” “A little help for the boys?” “These boys keep your luggage safe, a little something for them?” In the end their help was occasionally useful in a large and unfamiliar airport and we paid them $20 for their trouble. The ring leader took it and then the followers proceeded to demand money for themselves. It took a very stern “Piss Off!!” to get them to let it go. This part of the trip was very irritating, but as Mid-westerners we don’t tip folks just because they walked beside you for 200 feet. I’m going to try and chalk most of this up to cultural differences, and move on. If I fly through Joberg again I will know enough to shoo them off immediately, and just handle it myself. We made sure to check our bags all the way through from Richards Bay to Kennedy on our return trip to avoid this hassle.
    South Africa 013.JPG


    The flight to Richards Bay was on a very small gulfstream turboprop. It only had 3 seats per row. Julia had a ball flying in such a small plane!

    The terminal at RCB is tiny, and the kind of place that has no gates or jet ways, you just clamber down the ladder out of the plane and walk a quarter mile to the terminal building.


    A typically South African woman, tall, blond, and very pretty, Tish Van Rooyen was waiting in the baggage claim area for us. She breezed us through baggage claim and collecting my rifle, and we were off for the 3 hr. trip to Mahlalela. Along the road there were many ramshackle stands selling everything from fresh produce to cooked meals. There were cows and donkeys just wandering on or near the road everywhere. No fences, no shepherds, just wandering cattle, very strange..


    We stopped about halfway at Illalla Weavers for brunch and some shopping. I found a book on how to make biltong and sausages, Julia found a necklace to go with her blue dress and a cute outfit for Katie.


    Tish drives a little like a pissed off New Yorker, not scary per say, but it kept it interesting! We arrived at the gate to Mahlalela about 1pm. We took a slow drive in and saw a crocodile guarding a male ostrich it had killed, a female ostrich that looked very raggedy, and a buck and doe of common reedbuck. Much to Julia’s delight we saw no less than 6 giraffe. It was quite hot and most of the animals were lying up in the brush.
    South Africa 040.JPG

    We met Mark and Telani Dedekind the owners of Mahlalela game ranch straight away. They showed us to our chalet, the honeymooner’s cabin. Sometimes it’s nice being the youngest guest! Our chalet was very nice and private. We got settled and had a snack and a drink before finally unpacking all of our stuff.
    South Africa 044.JPG
    We got to meet all the dogs, Two ridgebacks and 4 little hunting dogs, all jack russell mixes. Asterix, and Roxy , Romeo a ridgeback, two other dogs we don't remember the names of. There were always no less than 4 around to welcome you to the lodge.


    I sorted out my hunting gear and Walter, one of Mark’s staff PH’s, took us to the range to check out my rifle. Along the way Walter pointed out all sorts of things from identifying rhino species by their scat to trees and birds. The rifle papered 2" high and right. A simple adjustment and it papered 1.5" high at 100 meters. Perfect. Just then the sun was starting to drop low, and I eyed Walter for a reaction when I suggested a little drive?? He was willing since my PH was still enroute from closing the dry camp 750 Kilometers north. Walter took off with us in a utv with Julia sitting up top. We saw impala including a big group of rams, 6 kudu bulls, one of which had Walter a bit excited. If we were hunting, he said, you shoot that one straightaway!! He was tall, had deep curls, mass, and wide! He was walking with another slightly younger bull near the river. Note to self.... We also saw at least a half a dozen nyala bulls and glassed them carefully. One was a shooter, but not the bell shaped monster I am looking for. Walter took us to a small pan and we saw 3 different mother/calf pairs of white rhinos at less than 100 yards. These things are huge! The short drive right before dark really got our blood pumping about this safari. After settling things back into our chalet we went to the lodge for a snack and a sundowner. Another pair of hunters arrived from the northern camp with Leo and Tommy. A pair of Germans, Otto, and his young son. Otto had hunted all over Africa including Kenya before it closed. They speak very little English, we speak very little German, and all the others speak Afrikaans. It made for an interesting dynamic around the dinner table.


    Starters for the evening were braaied (grilled) homemade venison borewors (sausage) which was excellent. Not fatty like pork sausages, and an excellent flavor. Even a very surprised Julia gobbled it up (she’s not much for sausages usually).
    South Africa 062.JPG

    Dinner was several meats done over wood coals on the braai served with salad, bread, a sweet corn dish, roasted squash, and roasted vegetables. The braai was mutton chops, pork chops, and beef steak. All were fabulous.


    Dinner was topped with a particularly wonderful looking ice cream dish which Julia took a picture of. Some sort of deep fried candied shell called a “brandy snap basket” filled with ice cream and topped with a drizzle of chocolate sauce. Julia absolutely loved this desert, calling her favorite of the entire trip.


    One more sundowner and it’s was off to bed for the two of us. First day of hunting to come tomorrow 6am. It was so overwhelming to actually be here in Africa on a real safari. It brought us both nearly to tears a couple of times today. There is no mistaking this place for anything other than Africa...


    More to come...
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 19, 2019

  2. BRICKBURN

    BRICKBURN AH ENABLER SUPER MODERATOR CONTRIBUTOR LIFETIME TITANIUM BENEFACTOR AH Ambassador

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    Your journal is well started....
    Look forward to the next instalment.
     

  3. Badger Matt

    Badger Matt AH Veteran

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    Great start to what's sure to be a wonderful report. I miss South Africa.
     

  4. Brandon Ryan

    Brandon Ryan AH Member

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    I was also in Kwazulu Natal this past August hunted Nyala and also got a very nice warthog. We saw Hippo and croc and plenty of leopard tracks. reading your story takes me back, thanks
     

  5. gizmo

    gizmo AH ENABLER SPONSOR Since 2015 AH Ambassador

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  6. James.Grage

    James.Grage AH ENABLER AH Legend

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    great start...

    your getting the hang of it, continue to the next chapter...
     

  7. gillettehunter

    gillettehunter AH ENABLER AH Legend

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    Love the start. Always fun to hear about the everything it takes to go on a trip like this. Keep it up. Bruce
     

  8. Royal27

    Royal27 AH ENABLER AH Ambassador

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    As others have said, great start to the story, love the narrative.
     

  9. Wheels

    Wheels AH ENABLER AH Legend

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    Great start to your report. Certainly looking forward to the rest.

    All the best.
     

  10. ROCKET

    ROCKET AH Fanatic

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    Great start for a hunting report.....I got hokked.....just keep going bud.....!!!!
     

  11. gutterdoc

    gutterdoc AH Veteran

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    I really like the in depth post. Ready for more. I finished reading before my drink ran out! I will drink faster next time. Great read so far.
     

  12. Nyati

    Nyati AH ENABLER AH Ambassador

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    :A Popcorn: Great so far, waiting for the rest.

    By the way, I hunted with Anton Marais in 2010.
     

  13. CAustin

    CAustin AH ENABLER BRONZE SUPPORTER AH Ambassador

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    Very informative report sir. Keep it coming.
     

  14. dtarin09

    dtarin09 AH Enthusiast

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    Enjoy reliving the experience through your words and eyes...

    dt
     

  15. BRICKBURN

    BRICKBURN AH ENABLER SUPER MODERATOR CONTRIBUTOR LIFETIME TITANIUM BENEFACTOR AH Ambassador

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    Where is your story??? :)
     

  16. tarbe

    tarbe AH ENABLER AH Legend

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    Yer killing me with this report!

    I have 4.5 months to go and I will be there with my bride of 31 years.
     
    ActionBob, Badger Matt and Royal27 like this.

  17. Big Country

    Big Country AH Senior Member

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    September 13th Day 4


    Exploration and Awe


    First day of hunting,


    Animals seen: white rhino, giraffe, zebra, nyala, mountain reedbuck, bushbuck, kudu, warthog, impala, grey duiker, natal red duiker, ostrich.
    South Africa 052.JPG

    We woke at 5:45 to the sounds of all the bush birds. This was a wonderful way to come awake. Before breakfast I brought up my gear and glassed the field in front of the lodge. The resident impala seem always present, but a special treat for me. I spotted my first pair of Natal red duikers! I was excited. Leo caught me standing on the railing of the veranda glassing the field and chuckled when I rattled off the 5 or 6 animals I was looking at. “a whole wild kingdom” he said with a smile. It seems that not all his guests are so enthused about seeing animals out the veranda before breakfast. Breakfast was served at 6:30 and was lite. Julia took some along but had a little too much wine last night. 7am we met Asterix, Leo's dog and Cipho his tracker. Cipho is a true Zulu and has hunted with Leo for 25 years. We drove and walked attempting several stalks on some zebra. We saw more than 30 nyala bulls but none were deemed big enough by Leo. He said the biggest were in the area of 26" but did not have the nice bell shape we were looking for. If he had looked the other way, I may very well have taken one of the two biggest and been happy. He promises to show me that they get much bigger. Julia got very good spotting the little duikers in the grass. We saw one grey duiker ram with good horns, but not good enough. Once again I got the two fingered signal out the window of the Toyota that said ”Too small”
    south africa 172.JPG
    I cannot believe how many nyala bulls we glassed just this morning. The nyala were mostly far up in the mountains and hilltops early in the morning. We drove to a beautiful overlook and glassed 15 or more different bulls from this spot including everything else you can imagine from wildebeest to warthogs.
    South Africa 067.JPG
    It is astounding the size and number of bulls we have seen, and we haven't found the big ones yet. Asterix whined the whole morning, it seems he wanted me to kill something too. We took a long walk along a mountainside stalking a group of zebra with a good stallion in it. The walking was relatively easy until Leo decided to head up the mountain a few hundred yards. I nearly lost my breath, and just happened to turn and look at Julia who was turning purple. With a short rest we all made it to the top. The zebra stallion had filtered out of the group somewhere in the trees and he was lost. Sipho was very helpful in identifying species and gender of everything we saw, from plants to birds to antelope.
    south africa 028 (2).JPG

    Lunch was wildebeest meatballs with pasta salad and some strange carrot and pineapple dish. And of course fresh bread still hot from the oven. MMM!!


    I took a short nap while Julia caught up with our folks back home via some shaky wifi at the lodge.


    The afternoon found us going to another part of the property looking for bigger nyala. We saw lots of game and three really good nyala bulls but one stood out heads and shoulders above the rest. He had a big, wide bell with tall tips that turned out and even back a bit. Leo, Julia and I made a long stalk on him, but he and the other two smaller bulls had vanished. There is only one water source in the area so they are not apt to wander much. Leo’s plan is to be there at daybreak tomorrow. The water source is a large marsh with 6 or 7 crocs in it. We saw 4 or 5, pretty cool. After getting back in the pitch dark we ran into Tommy, another PH headed out to retrieve a blue wildebeest that the German and son had shot in the evening. We tagged along to help and hold flashlights. It was a good bull with large hard bosses. I was a little jealous... no blood today. We saw duikers everywhere along the road on the way back to camp, very tempting as it is legal at night. After we got back to camp and changed into dinner wear and had a very relaxing sundowner in the boma around the fire with everyone. We learned how to say congratulations in German and declared “Viten mans Heil” to Otto and his son for the wildebeest kill. His son had gotten a very bad scope bite from the wildebeest experience. Think ¼ circle cut to the bone, ouch!! In spite of this he was in good spirits after the successful day. Leo hadn’t seen his wife and daughter for a few weeks, so Tish had come for the night and brought along their daughter Celeste (18) pretty as her mother, bubbly, and very much daddy’s girl. We both enjoyed seeing the daddy side of Leo that night. It made us respect him even a little more.


    The starters for tonight’s gourmet feast were a slice of onion; slice of tomato, slice of fresh mozzarella on lettuce drizzled with balsamic. A wonderful dish to look at, and an excellent taste.


    Dinner was three courses as usual with grilled game meat, garlic mashed, sweet potatoes, and roasted veggies: cherry tomatoes and green beans and garlic cloves. Very filling and the meat sliced thin and grilled had a wonderful flavor. The fresh bread was there, warm still from the oven. I told Telani that I may have to kiss her baker before the trip is over!!


    Desert was a bowl of strawberry trifle.


    The fire beckoned and with a borrowed cigar from the Germans and the remains of my savannah sundowner I mulled over the events of the day. I had always believed that the payoff of going on safari, or the high points would be the kills. I never even had the safety off today, but felt as if I had hunted a hundred animals. The day was that exciting and satisfying just seeing so much game that was so big. The experience so far has been exceeding any expectations I had by worlds. In one hand I wished for blood tomorrow, so as to have the satisfaction of a kill, but on the other, well today seemed perfect without a shot fired.


    September 14th Day 5


    Nyala


    Animals seen waterbuck, impala, warthog, blue wildebeest, Nyala, slender mongoose, red duiker, grey duiker, Genet Cat, croc, Common Reedbuck, blesbok, bushbok, monitor lizard, giraffe, white rhino.


    I awoke early, 5 am and took a shower just to wake up. I am sitting writing as always in the light of two candles. It seems a bit odd to be typing on a Bluetooth keyboard in the flickering candlelight whilst on safari in Africa. I feel like I should be writing in a leather-bound book with a fountain pen. The birds are just starting to wake up for the day and the light is coming up too.


    5:30 am knock on window but I am up, showered, and ready. Breakfast is beckoning... The birds are singing loud this morning. I had coffee with amarulla on the veranda but there were no animals to be seen in the meadow.


    Day two of hunting, hopes are high for the big nyala we saw yesterday. We are heading to the same area we were in yesterday evening, and may not come back mid-day. If we cannot locate the big nyala we saw yesterday, we may setup camp at the croc-hole in the area and wait him out. Leo says he is worth the wait.


    Another wonderful breakfast consisted of scrambled eggs, toast, and fruit. Leo says were off to the outback again. We take the main road to get there quicker and start climbing the mountains sooner. Very few animals out today, we only saw a couple of nyala. We saw a slender mongoose cross the road. It looked like a cross between a gray squirrel and a big weasel.

    We climbed the highest point around and glassed the valley for miles in every direction. From our cliff top overlook we spotted 6 nyala bulls and some cows in a dry lake bed more than a mile away. south africa 061 (2).JPG

    After joking about fishing for hyenas in the cave/den just below us and fooling about with a monitor lizard, we set off to get at the dry lake bed. Our stalk took us down a sandy, dry creek bed. Leo Julia and I snuck along very closely in single file. There were nyala females everywhere, and several times had to wait for them to feed away from the creek bed. The 3 of us froze in place as one when a natal red duiker crossed the creek bed not more than 15 feet in front of us. She was so close that we could see her chest move as she breathed and her nose wrinkle as she tested the wind. She never knew we were there....

    We kept creeping up the riverbed dodging Nyala females and francolin until we nearly stepped on a bull only 30 yards away. We could see 4 bulls, all 24-26 inches, but no sign of the big one. 10 more steps and he busted us from the hill to the left and behind that we had not been looking at. Fun stalk, very cool experience with a red duiker, but no shots.

    The same bulls moved off towards a croc pond ¼ mile away or so and with some maneuvering we were able to get in front of them. Leo spotted 2 bulls in the thick brush 70 yards away. Both bulls were posturing and doing that nyala male dance where they lift their tails and their white back hair stands up. We very quickly got in position for a kneeling shot but the brush was too thick for my comfort.
    south africa 086 (2).JPG
    We hurriedly moved ahead several times and finally found an opening about 4 feet wide in the brush. The bigger of the two bulls was just getting to the opening. Leo squatted in front of me and grabbed the barrel of my rifle setting it on his shoulder. As I squatted down behind him, he said “quickly chad, on the shoulder" and plugged his ears.
    south africa 089 (2).JPG
    As soon as the cross hairs settled on that little spot, 1/3 way up his shoulder, I squeezed and the 30 year old Winchester roared. I lost him in the recoil, but did not hear a satisfying thwack. Hmmm. Leo quickly asked how I felt the shot was. I told him that my sight picture was nearly perfect when the shot broke. I reloaded and we hustled to where the nyala had been standing. We could see his tracks before and after the shot...no hair, no blood. First 50 feet no blood. Did I yank the trigger and pull the shot? How could I have missed? Those old familiar doubts begin to creep in. A glimmer of hope... a single 1/8 inch drop of blood, then another, then another. Leo touched a blood drop and brought it to his nose, and also to Sipho's. I did not understand the Zulu word they both spoke, but I knew it must mean “stomach”. It was a hit, but possibly a poor one. My heart sank again. Sipho was sent to get Asterix back in the toyota. Straining at the leash the little jack russel mix came in eager and whining. Leo told me in a suddenly very serious voice, "if he is still alive I shoot, unless the dog is on the leash”.


    I respectfully agreed. I found out later that he had had a client shoot one of his dogs over a wounded animal in the past.


    Off the leash, and Asterix went yelping and tearing off into the bush for a few seconds. Suddenly all noise stopped. Leo turned to me with a smile and said "he is done, he is dead” I said “really, how do you know?” Leo said “if he even moves a little Asterix goes crazy" we hurriedly made our way to Asterix, maybe 120 yards into some thick brush, and there laid my first African animal, a truly magnificent nyala, even better than we had thought.
    south africa 098.JPG
    I knew it was something really special when the normally quiet and reserved Leo started hooting and hollering and even the normally silent Sipho joined in backslapping and hooting. If smiles could cut down trees you could have seen to the ocean that day.
    south africa 106.JPG
    Julia’s eyes got a little misty in happiness for my success and hugged me tight. The first African kill is special for most, and mine will be to me forever. I will remember the emotion and the details of that stalk, shot, and follow-up for a long time. The dread of a possibly poor shot turned to euphoria of a good, quick kill. The bull hadn’t gone 120 yards in ten seconds and died. I was flying high and couldn’t help smiling from ear to ear.
    south africa 135.JPG

    During all the admiration a good natured argument turned into a bet about the length. Using his hands Leo estimated 30" Sipho disagreed and said 28 or 28.5. Of course they both had measuring tapes in their pocket, but the 25 year veteran hunting duo enjoyed the guessing, and good natured ribbing more. This went on for a bit, but I hardly noticed.
    south africa 164.JPG
    This was truly the start of my African safari. This taking of my first trophy made it all very real that day. Julia and I were so happy that she had tears of joy in her eyes. It was everything I had wanted in a nyala and much more. He had a big, wide bell, with tall tips that turned out a little.
    south africa 140.JPG south africa 168.JPG

    I'm not sure I ever came off cloud 9 the rest of that day. We carried the nyala down to the edge of a croc pond filled with huge catfish to take the trophy photos. Leo and Sipho are truly artists when it comes to this. No little detail, no errant blade of grass, or tiny branch was overlooked. After getting some spectacular photos, we cut a road for the toyota, and loaded out all the gear and the bull. Julia and I rode up top on the toyota, but the thoughts were far from hunting. I cannot describe the happiness of a success so great. Leo kept telling me how this will be a trophy that will never need to be upgraded no matter how many more trips I made. It took me nearly a week to realize how rare a trophy this really was. There was some excitement at the camp as we pulled in near noon. Sam, the wildlife manager came up to see what we had, Leo and Sipho had played a little possum with him about the size. His surprised and admiring face told the story as we gingerly unloaded the bull in the skinning shed. He ran his hands over the bell and turned tips and simply said "very big, very nice". A quiet man, but his emotions showed in his expressions that day.


    I stayed with the skinners and watched the entire caping process. The nyala looks very big when broadside, even comparable to an elk, but when skinned and dressed looks surprisingly similar to a mule deer. The big nosler sailed right through taking out both lungs and the liver. The shot was just an inch or two further back than it should have been and nicked the stomach also. After he was completely caped out Leo measured the horns carefully and it was a perfect 30" nyala. An incredible first Zululand trophy.


    An interesting side note, I came here hoping for a big warthog with long unbroken tusks. It turns out the dirt in the area has a lot to do with this. As a first timer I had no idea. We are hunting in a mostly rocky and gravely area. The pigs get worn down and broken off most of the time and do not get very long. In some areas not so far away the pigs get much bigger tusks due to sandier soils and more calcium. If there is a second trip, it will be to a dryer sandy clime with Oryx and big warthogs.


    Mark and Telani and Dedekind Safaris cater almost exclusively to Austrians and Germans. They are absolutely pig crazy. It is not uncommon to have them take thirty pigs in a package in a week or ten days. Mostly management type hunts, two or three trophy hogs, and lots of non-trophy and sub-adults. They use them as game cullers on properties where the jackal populations have been reduced therefore resulting in the pig populations exploding.


    Lunch and a short nap went quickly, and I remember little about them, being still in a state of euphoria. The elder German Otto who has hunted all over the world including Kenya was very impressed with the quality of my trophy nyala as well. I got a very hearty “Viten Mons Heil!!” , and a hearty handshake from Otto and his son. This made my chest swell a little more I admit. I enjoyed all the backslapping and congratulations from the trackers and skinners that night too.

    south africa 226.JPG
    Before the afternoon hunt we decided to take Julia to the range with Leo’s 7x57 because we were planning a waterhole hunt for a few hours the next day. After few minutes of instruction by Leo, she squeezed off two rounds from the little rifle. I am proud to tell you that Leo looked through his binoculars, smiled and said "well I guess we don't need any more practice do we?" She had put the two 180 grain Woodleigh soft points in a neat pair 1/4 apart and 1'' right of the dot.
    south africa 227.JPG

    In the afternoon we went on a hunt for grey duiker, Mark and his family had been gone all day at a confirmation in another town 300k away. As we met them on the main drive, they were clapping and shaking fists. Apparently Sam the quiet one had phoned them with the good news about the nyala. Again, I enjoyed the accolades. The evening hunt went without much game, 3 or 4 grey duiker were spotted, but all females except an impressive 4-3/4 or 5 inch ram with only one horn. I looked hopingly toward Leo and he said, “not a unicorn, we'll find another”. It was a nice end to a great day. I can't express how happy the day was for me. We stayed out in the bush until black dark, had a slow relaxing cigarette from Leo, and put away the rifle. Julia wasn’t thrilled about the smoke, but was tolerant because of the special day I think. Leo got out the spotlight for the ride back to camp. Not much out even in the dark, a few gray duiker females and an incredibly pretty Genet Cat. Leo saw it at 100 + yards and told us all to shush and watch this. He made little squeaking sounds with his mouth, much like a mouse would or small rabbit, and that genet cat came running to the toyota as if Leo had him on a string. He got within 30 ft. before he turned and slipped away. The most beautiful cat I have ever seen. Leo just chuckled a little and we kept on to the camp.


    I couldn’t tell you what we had for dinner. I couldn’t tell you what we talked about around the table, or at the fire. I was too in the clouds with my first ever African animal in the salt. A cold savannah, the flicker of the flames, and small cigar victory dance was all I remember.....


    September 15th Day 6


    Zebra


    Animals seen, zebra, red duiker, grey duiker, wildebeest, mountain reedbuck, warthog, kudu, nyala, marabou stork, impala, slender mongoose, giraffe, white rhino


    Wake up call at 5am, I was up at 4:45, showered to wake up a little and headed up to the lodge for a nice breakfast of eggs, fruit and toast. The camp manager, a 20 something very friendly brunette whom we called Cuteness, met me at the coffee pot looking a bit fresh out of bed. She asked me how I could possibly not look tired after the last few days, with the early mornings and late nights. I simply told her “This is the adventure of my life, how could I be tired?” She smiled sleepily. We were off before 6 and headed to a new property called Ntibane about a half hour away. This was a very dry property, but we were going to setup on a waterhole so this was good. Few animals were seen on the way in, and nothing of interest other than a giant prehistoric looking bird called a marabou stork, and a pair of reedbuck that were camped out in a little depression on a 30’ island in the middle of a small lake.
    south africa 248.JPG
    We ended up seeing them there every day we went to Ntibane. We checked tracks around the big dam that had a little water left in it and Sipho declared that the tracks were from early morning yesterday and we should setup before 8. This was going to be a much longer sit than we planned for, but Leo trusted Sipho and we were in the blind and quiet by 8 am.
    south africa 270.JPG south africa 288.JPG
    Animals came in waves it seemed, it was as if they all congregated in the brush and waited for the first to drink, once one was drinking unmolested, a half a dozen other animals would come in and drink too.
    south africa 307.JPG
    The only animals worthy of note were a pair of kudu bulls, one looked very long but had that stretched out shallow curl thing, the other was picture perfect, fairly wide deep curls, tips turned up, but Leo wasn't crazy about him, so I passed. He said afterwards maybe 50" or so.
    south africa 305.JPG
    Later in the sweltering hot afternoon we had some wildebeest start filtering through the brush towards us. Leo said there would probably be zebra with them, and that was what Julia was waiting for with Leo's 7x57. The lead bull looked very big and when Leo put up his binocs he started cursing very excitedly. "Shit he's big, holy shit he's big! look at the dam drops on him!" etc. etc. Leo rarely raises his voice at all, much less ever curses. I took this to be one of those trust your PH situations. I eyeballed the bull in my binocs the entire time Leo was cursing and losing his mind. The bull had a beautiful and highly contrasting cape with horns out well past his ears, deep drops, and long tips that turned back. In the back of my mind I’m still waiting for a zebra for Julia. By the time we all realized that there were no zebra, all 40 or so of the wildebeest were drinking and milling around as they do. The big bull was in an awkward position for me to shoot from the blind but I decided to try him anyhow. The shooting position was far from good, and I struggled with the sticks a bit. I quietly slid the safety forward, put the crosshairs on his chest and proceeded to yank the hell out of the trigger. The gun did nothing, but the giant flinch was certainly noticed by Julia and Leo, and the entire waterhole. I had forgotten the model 70 has a 3 position safety and had only pushed it to the middle setting. I was pretty flustered by the dumb mistake and huge flinch, so I promptly slapped the safety forward to fire. That one little click sent the entire herd of wildebeest and king kong bouncing away somewhere towards Botswana.


    Sigh... better than making a bad a shot on a tough animal I guess. I felt very foolish ... Julia had gotten a picture of the two kudu bulls and of course had taken a very nice video of me muffing the chance at the wildebeest. One of the highlights of the day at the water was an enormous giraffe bull that came in to drink. It was really interested to watch him do the splits and drink.

    south africa 301.JPG

    The late afternoon was very slow and after spending 7.5 hours in the 110 deg blind we decided to give it up and head out slowly hoping for a kudu in the more open timber hillsides on the way out. Unbeknownst to Leo and I, Julia was at her wits end with the heat from the day, and was nearly at the point of tears when we finally got out of the blind. She wanted so badly to be tough and not mess up the hunt that she had nearly gotten herself sick. Leo and I both felt bad that we hadn't noticed ourselves.


    Mostly we were all glad to just get out of that toaster oven and get some air. On the way out of Ntibane we spotted a small group of zebra back in a valley maybe 1/4 mile off the road. It was only ½ hour or 45 minutes until dark, but we decided to see how close we could get. We drove ahead over two hills and parked the toyota. Leo, Julia and I began another "follow the leader" stalk down the road and up the valley. I was really proud of Julia. She had never stalked anything in her life before, and had learned how to walk completely silent in the crunchy brush. We got within sight of the group of zebra which were feeding in and out the bush ahead of us in a shallow valley. Leo quickly setup the sticks and began to guide me to the best stallion for my lovely bride's rug. The shot was long and Leo bent to give me an elbow rest on his back. After the long, super silent stalk, and all the anticipation, my heart was beating out of my chest, and I struggled to keep things calm. I shot very carefully this time, silently telling myself to “squeeze, squeeze, squeeze” as the crosshairs slowly circled the black and white arrowhead on the stallion’s shoulder…The 375 roared, and the zebra stumbled at the shot. A good hit! The big nosler had taken him right on the shoulder. He recovered, and ran off. In we went to the point of impact, no blood, but an obvious hit. It was getting dark fast, so out comes Asterix, as it turns out we didn't need him at all. Julia and I actually spotted the stallion before Asterix got to him. He didn't go 50 yards and was stone dead.
    south africa 321.JPG south africa 323.JPG

    Leo said later that my heart was pounding so loudly during the shot that he could actually hear it when I opened my mouth, and that I had actually been saying “Squeeze, Squeeze, Squeeze” out loud as I was shooting. “Whatever works” he said with a chuckle and a smile.

    south africa 345.JPG
    My lovely bride went over and began stroking his mane and gingerly touching his stripes, "so pretty" she exclaimed. She is always a little happy and a little sad when an animal dies, the sparkle in her eyes let me know how happy she was to have gotten our zebra, and the wet look of her eyes let me know of her sadness at the death of this beautiful creature "so pretty" she said over and over...


    Before coming here on this trip Julia and I talked a little about hunting and taking animals. She had never been around this, and was afraid that she would be very sad to see them after they died. I explained to her that taking an animal's life is not something I have ever taken lightly, and that showing emotion at the taking of its life is showing respect to the fallen animal. I told her that misty eyes or even tears are not inappropriate, and not to worry about her reactions.

    south africa 354.JPG
    We loaded my zebra and headed back to the lodge in the black dark.


    Dinner was wonderful as usual. I don't know why it surprises us every day. The cook, whose name is literally Goodness, does a fantastic job and caters to our every need and want.


    Starters were salmon and cream cheese rolls on lettuce with sliced lemon. Really excellent tasting start to dinner


    Dinner was Nyala schnitzel, grilled veggies, and mashed potatoes with fried onions.


    Julia looked quite exhausted after dinner and was very nearly headed to bed until Cuteness showed up with desert. Suddenly my bride perked up and said in loud exclamation “what is that!” I laughed as apparently a good desert could wake the dead. This evening’s indulgence was ice cream wrapped in a pancake with strawberries and a chocolate drizzle. Julia nearly imploded just from looking at it. She said it was the best thing she had tasted yet, only seconded by the brandy snap basket ice cream of a few nights before.


    Julia was exhausted very nearly to the point of tears after all the travel, the long hunting days, combined with the heat, and the emotions. Though desert had perked her up temporarily, she was fading fast. I retired early to get her to bed. She tries so hard to gut it out in the heat, but it tends to get the best of her.

    another wonderful day done in the natal...


    More to come...
     

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  18. Royal27

    Royal27 AH ENABLER AH Ambassador

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    And this to me is what it is all about, the experience that is Africa.
     
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  19. Wheels

    Wheels AH ENABLER AH Legend

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    Fantastic first African animal!(y)
     

  20. billc

    billc AH ENABLER SILVER SUPPORTER AH Legend

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    That is a great nyala and beautiful zebra you have taken.That nyala is the perfect shape and what length on him.Great job and glad you and the wife had a great trip
     

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