Animals seen, grey duiker, impala, warthog, kudu, red duiker, monitor lizard, nyala, common reedbuck, guinee fowl, ververet monkeys, giraffe, tortoise, white rhino
Our day started early with wake up at 5am. As usual I was up to say good morning to Goodness who knocks on the window frame for our wakeup call every morning. After the heat of yesterday, Julia needed a day to sleep in and just relax, so I dressed quietly and made my way to breakfast of eggs and toast and to the toyota. Leo, Sipho and I headed back to the kudu spot we had been yesterday. Very early in the morning we saw an excellent gray duiker near a large dam. I had told Leo that if we saw a really good one I would be interested in a Duiker for a full mount. Both Leo and Sipho quickly agreed that this was the one.
We made a short stalk down a hill through a ravine and up the backside of the very tall earthen dam. Along the way we bumped into a very nice red duiker male, one horn was broomed a bit, but still an excellent trophy. Mostly I enjoyed watching the pretty little antelope dally about, no idea we were there. Up the dam we crept, the gray duiker was not in view at first, but once we got back on top of the dam he had moved very close to us, maybe 30 yards. Leo threw up the sticks, but the duiker was off and running towards the bush. Leo said “stay on him, he probably won't stop but you may get lucky”. He hadn’t got those words all the way out of his mouth when the duiker stopped and turned broadside for just a moment to see if we were still there. I had stayed on him and squeezed off the shot just as he turned broadside. The Winchester roared and the big Nosler punched a neat hole just behind his shoulder. He dropped in his tracks. Another moment of pure elation! It was a really great duiker measuring 4-1/2". Julia wanted "a little one" so badly from our trip, and now he was headed to the skinning shed. I shook Leo’s hand very heartily and slapped him on the back.
After pictures we headed towards the waterhole that we planned to stake out for kudu that day. A mile or so through the mountains we saw a large group of impala cross the road and head along the opposite mountainside. There was a very good ram in the bunch so Leo and I headed off to see about a shot. We found the impala , straight across a fairly deep ravine on the opposite mountainside. The ram was standing 150-200 yards away and behind some brush. The herd ram was standing nearly straight on to me just under some branches. Because of all the brush between us I had a hard time picking him out until I backed the scope to 3 power. Then it was easy and Leo zoomed it up to 5 for me. He was slightly quartering and standing downhill on a very steep slope. Leo told me to take him high in the chest because of the angle. I asked Leo for an elbow and he had me brace it on his back for the shot. I was surprisingly calm as the crosshairs slowly circled the ram’s chest, and I carefully squeezed off the shot. Whoom! And the impala fell in its tracks. The big Nosler had taken him high through the right chest, cross body and exited low just forward of his left hip. Heart lungs and liver all hit. Leo nearly shouted “nice shot!”“Good shooting man!” It was really nice to have the PH be happy and a little proud of my shooting. 4 shots 4 skins so far.
The recovery was a bit of a struggle. From where I shot it would be nearly impossible, so we had to make our way to the opposite mountainside and across the slope to get at him. There was no way we were going to get the toyota near him. Sipho grumbled about how far across the mountain he was, Leo said at least it’s not a kudu! Leo and Sipho carried him all the way back to the truck. We found where the bullet hit the ground behind the impala, but it must have skipped off. The ram had a beautiful cape, and just the sort of horns I wanted, tall and straight. Leo later measured the longest horn at 23-1/4” an excellent trophy impala for the Zululand area I’m told.
Now we had two animals down and were very far from the skinning shed. The property we were on had an abattoir previously on it, and we went there to gut and wash both the duiker and impala. After doing this we fired up an old walk in cooler and hung them in it for the rest of the day so they would not spoil in the heat. We then headed to the waterhole, it was a little late by the time we got there. By the time we built a blind and got settled it was 10:30 am. Leo and I sat in the blind through the heat of the day, until 3:30 pm. We saw all manners of wildlife from a flock of guinees that stayed with us all day to a huge 6' monitor lizard and a big tortoise just out of hibernation. The monitor headed our way after drinking and taking a mud bath. Leo said “stay very still and watch this”. He flicked some of the egg shells from our breakfast onto the ground outside of the blind. The huge monitor flicked its 8" long forked tongue and headed closer to us. Leo kept flicking egg shells and drawing him in. Without moving a muscle, he said "be very still, I’m going to catch him" I hissed back “that doesn’t sound like a very good idea!!” Luckily the monitor who I called Godzilla decided to go harass the guinees in the bush instead.
We also had a hilarious encounter with one of the dozens of monkeys that came and went from the waterhole throughout the day. A young ververet monkey came down to the water and had a terrible fright when he saw himself in the reflection. He must have jumped 2' straight up in the air and tore off away from the water. Leo was trying so hard not to laugh I thought he might start having kittens! The little monkey kept coming back time after time, sneaking up to the water and scaring himself. It was hilarious to watch, and broke up the monotony of the day. Later we watched some monkeys chasing young impala for fun.
Nothing of interest came to the water except one very good impala herd ram, but he was about the same as mine, and an ok male warthog, but Leo was not enthused so I passed. A group of kudu cows stayed for a very long time after drinking, but no bulls came in. At 3:30 we called Sipho back, and headed off to check the flats for kudu. We saw 6 bulls in the evening, but all were scrub bulls. One was a bit longer, but had an ugly very parallel set of horns maybe a 4-6" spread. It got dark before we saw anything really of note. When it was too dark to shoot we went back to the abattoir and picked up my impala and duiker. On our way out a very big kudu bull crossed the road in front of us in the black dark. Definitely a shooter, maybe tomorrow...
Dinner starters for tonight were peri-peri chicken livers. I ate 4 of the 6, an interesting taste, but nothing I would go for again. Julia graciously passed on them.
Goodness cooked another excellent meal for us of nyala cutlets from my bull, grits and salsa, oven grilled pumpkin and bread. The pumpkin dish was fabulous, and we bugged Cuteness for the recipe. She promised to translate it to English for us. Desert was malva pudding and custard. I’m sure I’m forgetting something; the meals have so many options and are all so flavorful, that they still seem to run together.
Julia was very refreshed from her rest day of sleeping in and reading. She was her happy, bubbly self again. She though that the impala and duiker were both very pretty, and was very pleased with my success. The fire after dinner was relaxing as usual, and warranted a small cigar from the tin given to me by Mark. I was getting to that exhausted point after a very busy 7 days. It was Julia’s turn to make sure I got some much needed sleep, and we retired very early.
September 17th Day 8
Animals seen: grey duiker, impala, warthog, kudu, red duiker, nyala, guinee fowl, ververet monkeys, giraffe, cape buffalo, white rhino
Leo let us sleep in until 5:30 this morning which felt nice. The morning’s hunt had no clear plan, at least none that Leo shared with us. The kudu hunting so far at Ntibane had been a bust, and we were tired of chasing up and down those mountains. We spent the morning hunt on Mahlalela supposedly looking for kudu. Along the way we came across this incredible wild fig tree and had to take a couple shots.
We came across two groups of impala which both had multiple very good rams in each. We glassed them from a distance for a long time and they were very relaxed. Leo quietly got out of the truck, pointed at Julia and gave her the “come here” finger wave. The look on her face was priceless. Leo smiled... I believe he fully intended to find her a good impala ram that morning, but didn't share it with her so to keep her from getting nervous about it. Julia climbed down quickly and took Leo’s 7x57. As they snuck off together I couldn't help but be proud that she would try something so off her beaten path for her.
Leo and Julia tried to get on the first group but a very large giraffe kept moving in the way until the ram spooked off. They stalked together towards the second group and got within 95 yards of the best ram.
I was crossing my fingers, toes, and anything else I had two of for my bride to have a good first hunt. Leo stared at the ram intently as Julia concentrated and broke the shot. The little 7mm Mauser barked and it was quickly over.
The ram went 35 yards before crashing. Her shot had been a little back but quartering away so the 180 grain Woodleigh soft point took the ram through its lungs and liver. We took a few minutes to pace off the shot, and talk about it a little, just to make sure he was done, and then went to inspect her trophy.
My bride’s heart bled a little for the pretty impala when she touched it, and she welled up with a few tears too. This was not only her first African animal, but her first kill of any sort. We had often talked about how taking an animal’s life should not be taken lightly, and how being emotional about it is ok. She touched and stroked the beautiful skin of the ram lightly with a soft smile and glossy eyes. She had strong emotions for an hour or so going both ways, happy about the trophy and how well she shot, and sad for the death of the ram. She thoroughly enjoyed the backslapping and storytelling part when we got back to the skinning shed. Leo later measured her ram at 22-1/2” a very good impala for Zululand.
We were back at the skinning shed before 9 with Julia’s impala, and it was already hot, nearly 85 degrees, so we stayed in and had a leisurely morning of coffee and reading on the veranda.
The kudu hunt began again in earnest at about 2:30. We headed off to the Ntibane mountains again. On our way up into the mountains we came across an entire herd of cape buffalo, maybe 30 or 35 together.
Leo stopped the toyota and cow called at them a little, they slowly all came towards the truck, other than the two old herd bulls. Sipho patiently explained how to judge buffalo bosses and age. Such a fine person he was to us, that Sipho.
I took a bunch of photos of the buffalo before we soldiered on. We covered a lot of country and saw almost no kudu in the low meadows so we decided to head to the top of the world. On top of several mountains there was Highveld grasslands that had been just burned a week or two before. I don't know if the fog or clouds gave up a little more moisture that high up, but it was the only green grass we had seen yet. There was game everywhere in the burns nibbling the new greens. We saw 8 different kudu bulls, but all were deemed too little. We saw two different bushbuck rams, but passed looking for kudu bulls. While glassing a prospect in front of us Sipho and Leo glanced to our right and both spotted the big bull at the same time. Madness ensued, Leo hissed get down and get ready!!! The sticks were throw up and the bull trotting to my right. The shot looked long, maybe 200-250 yards. “Quickly, quickly” Leo said softly. I stayed on the bull until he stopped.
The sight picture I had just before the big 375 roared was good, halfway up the body, in line with the leg. The dust kicked up huge in front of and beyond the bull. “Miss” said Leo. I racked in another round and was about to take a running shot when Leo said “stop, I know where he is going”. The bull ran into an acre or so of really thick brush with burned grass all around. Sipho went in from upwind, Leo and I stayed downwind to try and ambush him. Well, it didn't work, the bull ended up 30 yards from Leo and I. I could have shot him quartering away easily, but had no idea where Sipho was, so no safe shot. The bull turned and ran out right past Sipho and near Julia and headed across an open field. Leo and I ran full throttle through the thorn bushes and grass to the edge of the field and I took a quick shot off the sticks at the running bull at 150 yards or so.
I am thankful that this shot was a clean miss, and regretted taking it in the heat of the moment. By the time we sorted this all out, it was getting dark. We watched the video of the shot and it was clear that I pulled it right somehow. It was a very quiet ride out of the mountains that night.
I was pretty pissed that I had muffed the only shot I had gotten and a decent bull in days. After watching the video it was clear that the rifle was on, but I had just pulled the shot to the right. By the time we got back to the lodge I was over it, and ready to celebrate Julia’s trophy. We both showered and dressed up, her in a pretty blue dress and new jewelry to match, and me in my dress khaki shirt, slacks, and nice shoes. It was really nice to have Julia’s triumph to celebrate that night instead of just thinking about a miss.
Starters were crumbed prawns and sweet chili.
Dinner was a venison potjie with beans and assorted veggies. (A slow simmered stew like concoction) served over rice, with tomato and onion salad, and a 3 bean salad. The potjie was really good, and another nice way to have game meat.
Desert was still hot from the oven apple crisp.
We both had a nice dinner and sundowners talking about the day’s events with the camp staff, the Germans, and all the PH’s. Julia was enjoying her day in the sun and loved getting compliments on her impala around the fire.
The Germans are done hunting today and spent the day relaxing around camp. They leave in the morning
Our tiger fishing trip is all setup for tomorrow and we are very excited. The fire flickers, the PH’s talk, the dogs yawn, my love sighs contentedly beside me. Life is good here in the Natal today.
Good night for now...
September 18th Day 9
We started the day with our usual breakfast of eggs, toast and fruit. Julia and I were off for town by 6. We caught a ride with Telani into town and dropped off her two girls and Sam’s daughter at the local grade school. We met Leo and Sipho at the office in town, and happened to bump into Freddy’s pretty young wife who lives across the lot. I quietly commented to Leo that “they only make one kind of woman here don’t they? No wonder Freddy smiles so much!” He smiled wryly and just nodded his head. We stopped at the Junk and more store (like a fleet farm, but smaller) to pick up some tackle, and made our way to the fishing club property on Jozini.
Lake Jozini also known as the Pongola dam is a 15 mile long reservoir that sits right on the Swaziland border with KZN. Our boat was a giant fiberglass pontoon barge that had just recently undergone a complete facelift. It was 16' wide by 30 or so feet long with a mostly open flat deck. The owners had just gotten done spending 3 weeks re-doing the floats and deck, and had just put it in the water for our trip.
Lake Jozini is surrounded by a giant game preserve. The amount of game there was just staggering. There were rhinos along the shore everywhere and herds of every kind of plains game roaming the shorelines and adjacent hills. There were more warthogs than we had ever seen in one place.
The fishing was very slow, and the weather was very hot. We did not catch any bream, or catfish. Sipho and Leo each caught one 12" or so tiger fish, so we at least got a photo.
We had several large tigers take the cut bait that we had on the bottom only to cut the leaders before we could land them. It was a nice relaxing day on the water in any case. The most exciting thing about the day was showing Julia a giant warthog on shore where we launched the boat. During the day Leo mentioned that I had been given an interesting nickname by the staff back at camp. Sometimes they give people nicknames because of something they do or don't do, etc. They all called me “bullet”. I thought it was kind of a cool nickname, but didn’t understand why? Leo explained that with my hat off, my bald head looked like a bullet! Very funny, and I liked the name anyhow. We told Leo that we called Lena the German foreign exchange student “German shorty shorts” because that seemed to be the only thing she ever wore, and the new camp manager we called “Cuteness”, because well, she is pretty damn cute. He just laughed…We saw another monitor lizard by the lake also, much smaller than "godzilla from a few days before, but still 4' long. I had no idea that these things can swim. He swam out and climbed a dead tree near the boat.
New guests arrived today. John is a retired pilot from North Carolina, and very friendly. He is in camp looking for Nyala, Red Duiker, and Bushbuck. We liked him immediately. He was relieved to have some other Americans in camp also. Like us he only speaks English. He seemed to enjoy having some hunting newbies in camp; I think we might have reminded him of his kids. He heartily congratulated Julia on her impala and meant it. John has been on safari 4 times previously, and mostly with his Namibian counterpart. The Namibian is a German PH named Werner. He certainly looks the part. Ruggedly handsome, Built like an ox, solid muscle and big square jaw with the typical German facial features. Friendly and soft spoken, with a wry sense of humor, Julia may have admired him just a bit All Julia said is "he's pretty..." I just laughed! Werner is a ph/outfitter from Namibia, but is not a licensed PH in RSA. They are being PH'd by Freddy, the brother of Telani Dedekind. Freddy is a hoot, with so many jokes and long stories about hunting, PH’s and clients.
Starters tonight were garlic snails with brown bread fingers. I was a little scared to try them, but didn’t want to miss a chance at something new. Surprisingly, they were not bad.
Dinner was something entirely new for us. We had a Chinese braai. Bowls of cubed raw chicken, venison, mushrooms, carrots, baby marrow, cabbage, onions, sprouts, garlic, and ginger were set out. A large flat pan with 4” sides was put 4” above a hot bed of wood coals and coated with olive oil. Each of us selected the ingredients we wanted, and proceeded to stir fry it ourselves. The pan was big enough for 4 or 5 people to be doing this at once. Nearing completion we all added some basmati rice from a pot over the fire. It was kind of a neat way to get a bunch of guests to interact around the grill, and would work very well for a redneck dinner party I think. This was followed by garden salad and garlic bread.
Desert was a baked Jan Ellis (some sort of cake) surrounded by a thin custard served hot.
After dinner we enjoyed introducing ourselves to Werner and John and hearing some of the stories of their past hunts around the fire.
September 19th Day 10
Animals seen: grey duiker, impala, warthog, kudu, red duiker, nyala, common reedbuck, guinee fowl, ververet monkeys, giraffe, Cape buffalo, white rhino
Friday, the temps had started dropping today heading towards a big cold front moving in tomorrow. Pants and jackets were worn for the first time in our trip. We hunted kudu and warthog at Ntibane all day, no trophy animals seen.
We saw 6 or 8 kudu bulls, all youngsters and lot of cows, but no shooters. We took a long look at a deep curled very parallel horned bull, but he was deemed to be too young.
We made stalk on a shooter warthog, but were given the slip or possibly busted by a red duiker that we got very close to. It was a long day, and we covered a lot of country, but not much was seen.
We did have an interesting experience with a buffalo during the day. We were in a saddle between two mountain peaks that had an old dam with some green grass doing a stalk on some kudu bulls we had seen. We had seen some fresh buffalo scat, but not thought much of it. We worked around downwind of the big ravine the kudu were in and dug them out one by one, all were immature bulls. A bushbuck kept barking at us the entire time, but we were not sure why. As we made our way back to the truck we saw Sipho quietly gesturing at us. He was holding his arms out to the sides and down with his hands turned up. Leo whispered “buffalo” I could tell Leo was trying to explain that we had seen the spoor in Zulu, and knew there had been one in the area, but Sipho kept giving the big bull buffalo signal with his arms in argument. Finally Sipho just pointed to the tall green grass in the bottom of the old dam. Sure enough, a huge black form could be made out. Leo gave him a grunt, and the ancient bull raised his head to check us out. His hide scarred up and hair mostly gone, he was hard bossed and wide. This monster was hair raising when he looked in your eyes from 50 yds. We backed away carefully, and left the old man to his green grass. This experience just cemented the idea that I must pursue a cape buffalo before I expire.
I have to admit, kudu hunting was beginning to lose its luster at Ntibane. Leo had been working out a trip to another property of theirs in the Highveld regions near Piet Retief. I was excited to try something different.
The ride back in the dark was uneventful; we cleaned up a little and changed into eveningwear for dinner.
Starters that night were Liver pâté on Melba Toast (a thin grilled slice of bread) surprisingly a very good snack. I ended up having Liver pâté on toast about half of the mornings we were there. It had a very good taste to it, and was not at all greasy.
Dinner was baked salmon, a kind of rice pilaf, peas and carrots, beetroot salad, and an apple salad. The apple salad was really tasty. It had several types of apples in a bare minimum of some sort of white sauce, just enough to coat them. Mmmm
Desert was a baked chocolate pudding served with ice cream.
We stayed late at the fire this night, enjoying the never ending string of stories from the 5 PH’s in camp. At this point Julia and I were feeling like veterans to these fireside story telling sessions. The flickering fire took away any of the days frustrations, and the jokes and stories kept the mood light and jovial. another day done here in the natal...
When I looked at the pic of your Nyala, I really thought he was over 30. What a great trophy he is. Nice impala. Congrats to your wife on her Impala. Great first animal. Thanks for bringing us along on your hunt. Bruce
Animals seen: grey duiker, impala, warthog, kudu, red duiker, nyala, guinee fowl, ververet monkeys, giraffe, white rhino
Saturday, Julia stayed in for the morning. The very long day yesterday bouncing along in the truck, had worn her out. It was cold with a howling wind in the morning. I used the heavy surplus coat I brought for the first time. Leo, Sipho and I covered some areas on Mahlalela that we had not seen before. Hardly any animals moving at all, other than a few red duiker. The normally silent Sipho got a little animated when he saw a baby red duiker, only 8” tall. We decided to give it up by 9 am. The cold blustery weather had everything hunkered down for the day. I did get to see some big tom leopard prints near one of the baits. It was fun for me to learn a little something about tracks and stuff too. We came in and lounged away the morning catching up on journals and relaxing.
Just after lunch Sipho, Julia, Leo, and I headed to the bream pond a few miles away. Sipho had dug worms for us in the veggie garden already and collected some fishing poles.
The spot was a nice one with a couple tables and a small pier. We fished all around the couple acre pond and only caught one big catfish in the first couple of hours.
I had a lot of fun pulling in the 25" catfish, it fought really hard. They call it barbell or just catfish, no particular species. While the fishing was slow I grabbed my rifle and took a walk up the dry riverbed. I was able to stalk up very close to a pair of red duiker. It was lots of fun just to see how close I could get. In the mid-afternoon the fishing started to pickup with Sipho and Leo starting to catch some nice bream or tilapia.
Julia and I struggled to perfect the technique at first. They didn’t use bobbers or floats the way we were are used to. The long pencil floats just laid sideways on the water and you watched for it to move a little. The fish wouldn't ever take the bobber down, just to the side a little.
After a lot of trial and error Julia and I got it figured out and we all started catching fish. We had lots of laughs about fish lost and throwing fish across the narrow inlet where they were biting. Sipho took a branch and made a little stringer for the fish which I watched carefully. Julia got a little frustrated with the finicky fish for a while. She harrumphed a little and proclaimed that “she was going to fish the other side for a while”. Leo grinned at me sideways. At one point she looked at me a bit flustered after missing several fish, and said loudly "I need a glass of wine!!" Leo and I broke out laughing from across the pond…She’s a trooper, and got the hang of it again. Once she started pulling them in again, all was well.
The water we were catching the most in was shallow, less than 2'. About an hour before dark Leo and Sipho started to get chilly so they made a fire by the pier while Julia and I fished a little longer. We had fun catching another 10 big bream and I even impressed Sipho by making our own stringer out of a branch. We took a great picture on the jetty with about 60 bream on our "Sipho stringers” it was a really nice way to spend a cold windy day.
Sipho took the stringers of bream back to the other trackers and skinners that night and they had a fish fry. I felt a little guilty leaving the fish cleaning to Sipho, but just waved me off. I was kind of curious to see how they tasted too. We listened to Leo, changed and headed to the boma for our dinner.
Starters for the night were grilled mushrooms, biltong, and pretzels.
Dinner was grilled venison steaks over the wood coals (my Nyala), with some kind of baked potato dish with sour cream, roasted veggies, garden salad, and beetroot salad.
Desert was a personal sized trifle
Though I enjoyed dinner I was a bit jealous of the trackers and curious how the fish might taste...
September 21st Day 12
Animals seen, black wildebeest, cape buffalo, blesbok, kudu, waterbuck, reedbuck, grey duiker, red duiker, nyala, zebra, giraffe
The alarm went off at 4:30 this morning. We didn't want to wake the staff so early, so it was up, dressed, and out the front gate by 5am. After several days of picking the mountains apart at Ntibane, we had decided to make a big move to find some kudu. This morning we drove to Piet Retief, about an hour and 30 minutes from camp.
On the way Julia asked Sipho if the boys enjoyed all the fish last night? Sipho said yes in English, and in Zulu said that some of the girls enjoyed them too…and that he had slept very well. Leo grinned out of the side of his mouth after quietly translating for me.
We are headed to the Wagendrift farm, an area of highveld grassy mountains and steep brushy ravines. We stopped in Pongola at the Wimpy (something like a convenience store) for a quick breakfast and continued on our way. The road to Piet Retief is literally lined with little villages of native Zulu and Swazi for miles and miles.
We arrived at Wagendrift and met the property manager. Tim is a friend of Leo’s and what you might picture as a Boer. He is a large, barrel chested sort of man at 6' and 300 lbs with a big smile and a hearty handshake. He always carried an old revolver that looked as though his grandfather may have carried it. We picked up his tracker Wilson and headed out into the big part of the ranch.
The terrain was rolling grassy hills to high grassy mountains, with steep brushy ravines in places. The blesbok were everywhere, and we saw several gold medal plus animals during the day. The black wildebeest were funny to watch dancing around on the high grassy plains. It was really nice to see some different country after 7 days in the bushveld.
We found high places, and glassed these huge areas of grassy highlands and mountainsides. The kudu were mostly to be found halfway up the mountains in the grass.
We were able to glass up and look at 14 different bulls before we found the group we were really interested in. We had gotten towards the back of the ranch, where the roads are well, spotty at best.
As we headed up yet another mountainside Leo saw an ear and a horn base in the edge of a severe ravine to our right. Try as we could, the 4 of us in the back could not spot anything in the dark brush from our elevated position. We clambered up the goat path a bit further around a bend and pulled off the road into the grass for fear of sliding back down the unstable rocky road. The ravine the kudu were in was very steep and very thick. Leo said “this might not work, but we’ll give it a try”. He sent Sipho and Wilson around upwind of the ravine to try and spook the kudu toward Leo and I, who had positioned ourselves downwind. Once we saw movement in the timber, we high tailed it, literally running across an impossibly steep, rough, and rocky side hill to an outcrop that overlooked the bottom grassland where the ravine ran out. The trick worked flawlessly, as the kudu could have gone out a dozen ways that would not have worked, but chose to filter out the bottom right in front of Leo and me. It turns out that 4 bulls had been hiding in that ravine and came out in two pairs. The first pair were both young bulls in the mid 40's, the second pair were both heavy horned, mature bulls, the leading bull was wider and longer, and Leo said if he stops, take him high on the shoulder. And stop he did, perfectly broadside, for a second. I squeezed and the Winchester roared. There was no question of a good hit; the bullet slapped that bull to the ground with a loud "Whock". The bull was down with his belly facing us, but still kicking a bit, Leo asked me if I could sneak one in right on his heart. I said yes, no problem, and proceeded to shoot 2' over him. “Ok, settle down” I had to tell myself. I set my elbow on Leo’s back and squeezed off the final shot of my safari. Whoom! Another solid sounding "whock" and the bull was done. The first shot had gone in high on his shoulder and due to the severe downward angle I was shooting at exited 7" lower. What you might call a high shoulder shot that anchored him. The second shot took the heart and lungs out completely. Given the steep and severe territory surrounding us Leo was almost giddy that I had anchored the bull in a comparatively flat grassy area.
All this time Sipho and Wilson had heard the commotion and the shooting, but could not see the downed bull. As they came out of the ravine, they saw us glassing the 3 other bulls heading far and away, down the mountain into a very nasty no man’s land, Sipho and Wilson were overhead in speaking in Zulu wondering if the bull had gotten away, had I missed? Unbeknownst to me Leo was about to play a joke on them. He said in Afrikaans, "get over here!, hurry up!, he has shot him in the guts and he's running there!" With this he pointed to his stomach and the bulls running a half a mile away and opening. I could hear both Sipho and Wilson groan and utter things in Zulu that should not be repeated. Leo then let me in on the joke with a little giggle. Sipho and Wilson crested the ridge and could be heard grumbling in Zulu when Leo, laughing loudly, pointed to the obviously dead bull at the bottom of the ridge, and taunted them a bit. Lots of laughs and a bit of chasing around by Sipho and Leo ensued. We were all a bit relieved to have a good kudu down and headed to the skinning shed. A weight was lifted from both Leo and I having this bit of business taken care of. Watching them argue about guesses on horn length was half the fun of taking the trophy and we had lots of laughs watching those two relate in their own way.
Leo and Sipho have been hunting together as a team for 25 years this year. Sipho is 51 and Leo a bit younger. They have a working relationship that is a little hard for us as Americans to understand, but a strong friendship as well. Leo is definitely the employer, and Sipho is definitely the employee, at least at work. Sipho lives at Leo’s house and works his ranch when they are not hunting together. It has been generations since my family has had hired men on their farms, and it seems a bit foreign to us.
Leo went to try and get the truck down the slippery mountain road and Sipho, Wilson and I made our way down the mountainside to my kudu. My emotions during the descent are hard to describe. Taking a trophy kudu had been a dream of mine since I’m 12 or 13 years old. It’s one of those bucket list things that keep you going to work every day. After making my way through the rocks to the bottom where he lay, I finally put my hands on his massive grey bulk.
I have to admit, I was a little overcome. After my nyala we had been hunting for a kudu with few interruptions for 6 days. The success of finally taking one was tempered by the emotion of taking the life of this old warrior and the end of my hunting safari. I was not sure how to handle the flood of emotions I was having. I felt happiness and elation at taking a beautiful kudu, relief at finally getting it done with only a day to spare, sadness in seeing my safari coming to an end, somber respect for the death of this beautiful animal. I was quietly introspective for the rest of the day, to the point that my loving bride asked if I was ok.
His grey body was very big, and his knarled horns had bases I couldn't nearly get my big hands around, his tips were a bit worn down and broomed off. He had the great upturned tips I had dreamed of with really beautiful width.
I have never been happier with a trophy, and forgot to even get him measured. Sipho later measured his longest horn at 51-1/2". He won’t break any records, but he’ll be forever special to me.
We went back to Wagendrift, caped and butchered the kudu while Leo whipped up a quick lunch of grilled sausage, ham, cheese and tomato sandwiches, cold noodle salad, and some leftover squash from the night before. We sat on the veranda of the 160 year old plantation house having a cold drink while Sipho and Wilson finished caping and salting my kudu. I had eaten a bit much for lunch and didn't feel real well, but enjoyed played with Tim’s little red dog. The plantation yard was filled with flowering plants and trees that looked and smelled beautiful. One tree had separate white and purple flowers and smelled very much like a fragrant lilac.
After lunch we made our way from Wagendrift back to Mahlalela. Back through all the villages we travelled. It was interesting, as it was a Sunday, that it seemed like every person was out walking along the road in clothing that was impossibly bright. Women dressed in heels and dresses, and men with bright suits and very sporty ties and shoes.
On the way back Leo and I talked about the wart hog dropping off my list for this trip due to the lack of really good trophies. He did say that since John had already taken his bushpig on stroke of luck during the day, that the big boar that has been coming into the bait was available, and we could sit the high hide on the mountaintop tonight If I wanted to. The bushpig is a rare trophy and sometimes hard won, so after talking with my bride I agreed to try an evening in the bushpig blind with Leo. Julia decided to enjoy the evening watching the impala and reading on the veranda. At 4:30 pm Leo, Sipho and I headed to the high hide at the mountaintop bushpig blind. After checking the red lights, and setting up the bait station we settled in for the evening in the hide. The evening was pretty uneventful other than a young grey duiker male that came to drink just before dark, and a big male grey duiker that drank after dark. My Nikon monarch 7's were really put to the test in the dark. I couldn't see the second male with he naked eye, but I could make him out and his horns with the binos. Not surprisingly, Leo’s Swarovski’s held the light for another 15 minutes past when my Nikons went dark. The bushpigs never showed, and we left the hide about 8pm.
Dinner was a celebration of my kudu and John's nyala. Starters were grilled borewors (sausage), and chopped seafood parcels (deep fried envelopes of chopped seafood) with sweet chili, extremely good!!! I ate a few too many, and felt a little off during dinner.
Supper was lamb filet, with the usual banquet of tasty sides. They included boiled potatoes with sour cream, broccoli and cauliflower in white sauce, garden salad, and gem squash stuffed with sweet corn. The little stuffed squashes were excellent, I had two!
Desert was individual Pecan nut pies
My hunt is done, so we stayed at the fire late with all the PH's and John. Freddy, Werner, Leo, Tommy, and Sam all have so many stories from over the year’s professional hunting in so many countries. Freddy by far has the best sense of humor. His one liners are dry but hilarious. He was describing a bad luck PH friend of his saying “his luck is so bad that it could be raining women and he'd catch his mother in law”. We laughed until we cried sometimes. The usual drinks and wine flowed around the fire, stories, jokes, and many laughs. We headed to bed around ten both of us looking forward to sleeping in....
September 22nd Day 13
Monday, we slept in until after 9am and took our time getting ready for breakfast. The new chef made us bacon and eggs and we both enjoyed a coffee on the veranda. We spent the rest of the morning catching up on journals and just relaxing in the lodge playing with the dogs. We left just after lunch for Julia’s spa appointment at Amakhosi spa and safari lodge.
We arrived right on time at 1:30 but spent almost an hour in the very posh reception hall drinking fresh squeezed lemonade and watching nyala feed around the grounds. I was a little annoyed by the delay, but got over it. “It’s Africa” my wife said with a smile. The rooms here are 5 star plus. They had another masseuse available so we decided to get a couples massage together. We both had a 75 minute massage which was very relaxing, but a little odd for me. All part of the experience I guess. I'm not sure if the panflute music, the aromatherapy, or the masseuse clanging a triangle above my body was more strange. Julia said “hush and enjoy the pampering”. Yes dear…
After the massage we went on a couple hour game drive in the big photographic area at Amakhosi. Our safari truck was a flatbed with 3 rows of seats behind the chop top cab. They had literally cut the top of the cab off with a sawsall and welded caps on. It still had a heater and everything, just no windscreen or cab! We saw two young male cheetahs sleeping in the middle of a big field, and a few impala and nyala. Then we saw one elephant, and another and another. Within minutes our open safari truck was surrounded by cows, calves and immature bull elephants.
They got so close that you could hear them "talk" using the ultra-low frequency rumbles. We could feel their breath, and even see their eyelashes move. We had several elephants within 15 feet, and one was within a trunks reach of me.
It was humbling to be under 10' from something that big that had all the control. The elephants pushed over several big trees and ate off the leaves and tender branches from the tops while we watched. One big one stood 15 ' away from us crunching up the thorn bush branches in what seemed like slow motion.
The elephants are pretty easy to judge as far as mood, and we only once had the big female of the group, or matron get pissed at us. She raised her tail and flared her ears at us. The pigtailed park ranger pulled us back slowly and spoke to the big ele softly to calm her down.
The whole time the elephants were close Julia was just in awe, and had “that” look on her face.
We stopped for drinks and a snack right next to a deep pool in the mkuze river, and we were in luck with a big cow hippo and young male being there, in addition to a big croc. The only other couple on our truck was a couple from Switzerland. They were absolutely stoked to see hippos and we enjoyed talking and laughing with them about our and their experiences in Africa.
We took some pictures with the hippos and had a relaxing drink of the banks of the Mkuze river as the sun went down on our last day in Africa...
Our game drive took us until it got dark. No lions were spotted. Our game ranger decided to drive around and look for the lions in the brush, in the dark. Julia wondered out loud to me “is this really a good idea??” I reminded her that she had to sign a release for her massage, but not for the game drive. Hmm, she said, but still looked concerned. I think she was a little relieved that we didn't find them in the brush in the dark.
On the way back we spotted another genet cat, and got to explain how Leo had called it in so neatly. The pigtailed ranger took note, and promised to look into that, it sounded like a neat trick. After a departure drink back at the spa we headed home to the lodge with Sipho.
September 23rd Day 14
We got up at 6 am and packed all our stuff. We had our last wonderful breakfast at the lodge and said goodbyes to the staff and all the PH's. We left early with many stops to make before our 4:40 flight out of Richards Bay. We dropped all my trophies at Zululand Taxidermy and I personally supervised the tagging and numbering of each and every piece. It made me feel good about leaving them there. From there we switched trucks in Pongola with Tish, said our goodbyes to her and Sipho, and made our way towards Richards Bay. Julia and I both loved the sweet chili sauce they had in camp and took a couple bottles home with us from the local grocery. On the way to Richards Bay we stopped at the Emdoneni cat sanctuary. Leo has a very good friend that he used to PH with that owns this sanctuary now. Because of this, we got private tour from their head cat wrangler. Just the three of us took a private guided tour into all the cat enclosures, and under very strict instructions, we were allowed to “pet” the cats.
We saw many of Africa’s native wild felines, the coolest were the caracals, that look alot like a miniature mountain lion with fringed ears, and the cheetahs, which by the way, are way bigger than either of us expected. We petted a caracal, and met the caracal Diego, that Leo had donated a few years ago.
The cheetah experience was by far the topper of the day. We got to kneel down next to these long lean cats, let them smell and lick our hands, and gently stroke their head and necks.
One of the males started to growl loudly while I was scratching his neck, As my eyes widened I looked to the cat wrangler for help, he said softly “he is purring, keep doing it” Julia had such a look of wonder on her face, I knew it was another one of those priceless memories...
Our last stop before the airport was an open public market. This is a place where local artisans, weavers, carvers, and farmers drop-off their wares to be sold to the public. There were 100+ low tables covered with carvings in wood and stone, masks, trinkets, baskets, almost anything you could think of.
We spent a good 2 hours perusing the market, and selected some carvings, and other curios to bring home with us. Even though it was off season I found two different kinds of pumpkin/squash there.
I took some pictures and hope to research them a little. I kind of wish we would have stopped on the way in and dried some seeds to grow next year.
Leo, Julia and I had a very nice lunch of home cooked food at the tiny Richards Bay airport cafe. Leo walked us through all the formalities with gun permits and baggage, and made it all go so smoothly. When we were ready to walk out to the tarmac and board, Leo gave us both a hug, and wished us safe travels.
Our flights home were uneventful, and felt like they went quicker than the ride there. Airport security was a bit manic for the Joberg to Kennedy flight. Apparently the US had begun airstrikes against Syria and the ISIS while we were in the African bush. Also the UN general council was to be in New York the day of our arrival. Both of these made for a little more hassle at Joberg, but not bad. The 15+ hour flight from Joberg to New York Kennedy went quickly with both of us sleeping the first 8-10 hours. Customs at Kennedy went smoothly with only a slightly raised eyebrow at the two feathers and one porcupine quill I brought home. As we landed in Minneapolis on September 24th we could see that the trees had already begun to turn bright reds, yellows, and oranges, and fall was here. It seemed like a bit of a foreign place to us, even though we were coming “home”.
Gear Wrap Up:
Rifle: Winchester Model 70 Super Express (Circa 1982)
Chambered in .375 H&H, the original wood stock had been replaced with an HS Precision composite. The rifle shot like a dream, fit me well, no scope bites, action was smooth and flawless throughout.
Scope: Zeiss Conquest 3-9x42 (used) with German #4 reticle. The scope worked flawlessly and handled all the bumps and bruises from airline travel and the daily grind without fail.
Ammo belt: African Industries (Ebay) 5 shell belt wallet in cape buffalo leather. Other than removing the silly leather patch on the front, I loved this piece. It fit nicely on a belt and kept another 5 rounds easily within reach. I only dipped into this once during the trip, but carried it with me everywhere. At $20 it was some very cheap insurance, running out of shells would be embarrassing. And I liked the idea of wearing it.
Ammo: Nosler Trophy Grade 260 gr. Nosler Partitions.
All but 2 shots were pass throughs. The two recovered had both lost their front lead but completely retained the copper case and rear lead. 5 one shot kills, two shots on my kudu, but that was my fault.
Field glasses: Nikon Monarch 7 in 10x42
Bought them new for this trip and gave my Steiner’s to the wife. The Nikons were flawless and worked well even when wearing glasses most of the time. I would recommend them to anyone. My PH carried a pair of very used Swarovski’s. Of course they were better.
Ruck sack/Carry-on: Eddie Bauer Cargo Packs
We bought two matching backpacks in different colors to use as our airline carry-on and truck rucksacks for the daily hunt. We paid about $60 each for them. The Eddie Bauer bags held up great to the daily grind of swinging around off a hook in the truck bed all day, packed full of optics, cameras, and extra clothes. Not a single zipper or stitch failed. Very good quality for the money, and tons of exterior pockets for things you need to access quickly on the truck.
Bino harness’s: Cabelas Pro Binocular Harness
These were cheap, like $8.99 and they worked flawlessly. They came with a bunch of straps and clips to adapt to most any binocs. Neither of us had used these before and were both very glad we had them. Very good purchase for the trip.
Camera: Panasonic Lumix FZ-200
This is a bridge camera that we purchased specifically for the trip. The FZ-200 is not a full blown DSLR but not a point and shoot either. It is in the class of bridge cameras. Most of the reason I have stuck with Panasonic is the quality of their IA or intelligent auto settings. It worked flawlessly and took excellent pictures when I did my part. One of us carried it around our necks at all times during the 12 days not airborne. The big optical zoom came in very handy and should not be overlooked for a trip like this. Our PH actually taught us a few things about its use while we were there. My only regret is not being better acquainted with it before we left.
When in the planning stages I told Julia that I didn't want to take this trip without her. After being there, I could not imagine seeing all these things without her there to share it. I found the experience to be far richer with my loved one there to share in it.
Leo tried admirably to get me trophies beyond my expectations and dreams, even though my safari was what I consider to be a beginner’s trip. My mistakes did not embitter or deter him from the chase. He was constantly trying to think ahead to the next adventure and anticipated our wants and needs. He was a consummate professional when the situation dictated the need, but a warm jovial friend throughout the trip. He must have felt some kinship towards us also, for we saw a side of him that departs from the professional occasionally. Long conversations about hunting, family, and travel filled each of our days with tidbits from his life. At the end of 14 days we both felt that we knew him a bit better than a business associate. This was the relationship we were hoping for. Leo hunts a half a dozen or more $50,000+ safaris a year, but I felt as if my starter plains game safari was as important to him as any full bag safari.
Our Zulu tracker Sipho was a pleasant surprise. Julia and I just loved being around Sipho every day. Often it seems, trackers just point and grunt due to language barriers, or lack of interest in their clients. Sipho was our consummate guide to all the plants, animals, tracks, scat, and anything else we could dream up to ask him about. He patiently explained anything we asked about during the 12 days we were with him. He did not speak fluent English, but knew enough to communicate almost anything to us. We felt like he added a lot to the experience and couldn’t imagine the trip without him sitting on the roll bar behind us. I think that Julia was a bit more attached to Sipho than Leo, and it’s possible that I was too, for reasons unknown. They both made every effort to be our friends. I think that Julia embarrassed Sipho a little when she drug him out of the Toyota to give him a hug before we left. We will miss him…
Reflections, Bits and Pieces:
Both Julia and I still feel a bit detached from our lives today. As we sit waiting for our last leg home, neither of us is really ready to step back into our lives at home. This is a somewhat unexpected side effect of our trip abroad. Normally we enjoy vacations, but are really ready to get back to our routine by the end. Not the case today. We both really don't want to leave, and can't imagine not coming back. To be honest we’re both feeling a little irritated with the idea of going home. It is a very strange feeling…
One of the amazing things about where we went in Africa was getting accustomed to seeing rhino, giraffe, crocs, and the multitude of plains game every day. It was very strange to drive by 4 or 5 giraffe on the 7 or 8th day and not get really excited. It had become normal to see a few giraffe every day, a few rhino and a hundred other plains game, etc. I think this is one of the reasons that coming home was so hard. What was once thought of as extraordinary became our everyday normal, if only for a few weeks. The departure from this extraordinary normal and arrival at what now seemed to be the mundane, old normal has us a bit growly I’m afraid
I have been really quiet most of the day, just reflecting on all the experiences we have had in the last 14 days. At the risk of sounding cliché, I fear I will never be the same after walking in the tracks of the buffalo, and feeling the rumble of the elephant.
Some say that Africa is like a drug, once you’ve had it, you’ll need more. Instead I found her to be more like woman’s inspiration. My lovely bride inspires me, brings out the poets soul, inspires me to show grit, she tempers my negative emotions, and nurtures the positive. She brings out what I like to call the “heart of a man’s man” in me. I found Africa to be the same for me. I felt very at peace and in touch with romantic notions and emotions while we were there.
For me Africa was not a drug, but felt more like a love affair. I think this is why Africa is a “she” to many; her lure has drawn men from across the globe to stretch their imaginations and broaden their souls for 200 years.
During this experience I seemed to have discovered a new bit of myself. A bit that only existed below the layers that life lays on us every year. When we were there I felt at peace, untethered and unconnected to the busy world that distracts us from the simple pleasures in life. We were without concern, other than the day’s events. We ate when we were hungry; drank when we were thirsty, and slept when we were tired. All this, not by a watch or schedule, but just in the flow of things. It was a very simple and basic existence and I did not miss anything about the fast paced world that we had left behind, if only for a short time.
I will miss the smell of Africa. This is something we both noticed in the first few days we were there. The smells are very different from home. The bushveldt has an odor that stays with you. From the sweet smoky smell of the burning lowland cane fields, to the fresh smelling green shoots after a Highveld burn.
Greetings all! I've been a hunter for 50 years, but only now planning a trip to Africa. I was fortunate and successfully bid on a couple hunts for plains game in SA later this year and next. Also a rare Native Texas (5th generation) and USMC Vet. Hunt safe y'all!