Well, this is long overdue but here is the report on my first-time hunt to South Africa. Over the last 8-10 years, I have been able to enjoy a few hunts thru listening to the experiences of my good friend PHOENIX PHIL. Thanks to him for not letting the embers die out in my dreams and for his personal connection to Jacques Spamer at JKO Safaris, I was finally able to pull the trigger on one of the most incredible hunting experiences in my life (at least so far). And was able to experience it with my long-time hunting buddy, PHOENIX PHIL. Having known Jacques for the last 8+ years myself, there was no doubt as to who I would book with for my adventure. More importantly, after spending 10+ days with JKO Safaris I can confidently recommend them to anyone looking for a great experience with lots of opportunity for quality animals. These guys work hard to make it real for their clients. We started out our hunt at Sandymount Park in the Free State province near Fauresmith. This concession allowed for access to 55,000+ acres of hunting opportunity and we would hunt it for the first 6 days of our trip. The country reminded me a lot of areas I have hunted in New Mexico and visited in Wyoming. The lodge and amenities were very comfortable with most of the private bedrooms having en suite bathrooms. The lodge hosts, Rykie Fourie/Vella Brink, were absolutely awesome and none of us went without anything we needed. All the food was top notch and we were able to enjoy wild game for most of our meals; springbok, eland, impala, black wildebeest, blue wildebeest, zebra, etc. After a restful night to close out a couple of long travel days, we were up early and off to sight in the rifles at their range. For this trip, I brought my Winchester M70 .375 H&H (300 gr. North Fork bonded softs) and my Browning A-Bolt 7mm Mag (160 gr. Swift A-Frame); all good at the range and we were off with a new friend, PH Vella. We started working our way thru a series of small canyons and immediately saw several animals; impala, kudu, waterbuck, etc. We eventually worked our way on top of the ridges to find a vast savannah. Of all of the experiences for my first trip to Africa, this was definitely an “aha” moment. For as far as you could see, there were plains game everywhere; herds of cape buffalo, red hartebeest, springbok, blue wildebeest, blesbok, sable, zebra and eland. We locked in on a very nice red hartebeest bull and the chase began. After working the wind several ways and then putting on a reasonably long stalk in mostly open ground, “Mr. Excited” here missed his first shot in Africa at ~300 yards, game over. I am sure that never happens to anyone…. The crazy thing is we came back thru the edge of that area about 2 hours later and found the same bull feeding on a ridge. After a short stalk, we were able to get a 200 yard shot with the 7mm and my first ever African animal was in the books. Little did I know, but this was just the start of a truly amazing hunting experience. Day to day we saw so many animals that just seeing them and trying to spot them became very special. I had many people ask me what it was like in SA, I simply state that it was like waking up in a zoo each and every day. How can you not like that? Day 2 we did a quick check of some of the grass savannahs for anything “special” and then took to the ridges for waterbuck. This was probably one of my favorite days as we spotted a good waterbuck bull and then put on a good stalk to the point that Vella was worried that we were too close. However, that was the only opportunity we were going to get due to the thick brush on the ridge we were on. Finally, we were able to get him to stand up at 20 yards and put a good shot on him with the .375 (well actually my buddies, a funny story for another time; but that’s what happens when you are shooting the same model I guess). What a blessing it was to be so engaged and in tune with nature that we were able to make it work without him winding us; Vella was spot on with his plan and we were able to pull it off. Day 3 and the experiences and blessings continued to come my way as I was able to double up for the first time ever. My good friend Jacques Spamer was now in camp and joined us in our hunt. In the morning we were able to find a small herd of impala with a nice, mature ram. Short stalk and was able to enjoy success. That afternoon we worked the savannahs again and found a lone springbok ram working back towards a herd. Jacques’ instincts were spot on in putting us in a perfect place to get a 240 yard shot. On the sticks, short “bleet” from Jacques to stop the ram and made the shot. Over the course of the next 3 days, we were able to add to the harvest list a black wildebeest, red lechwe and gemsbok. My pal, Phil, was also able to get a very nice sable as well (but he can tell that story). The red lechwe was not on my list until I was able to see one in person, then it became an “added splurge” to the budget. At first it was just a passing comment to Jacques that if we saw a nice one, I would be interested. After a couple of missed opportunities for blesbok (all my bad), we agreed to focus on the red lechwe. They knew of an older ram and we spent the better part of one afternoon working him in and around a hillside a couple of times with the help of a couple trackers that kept “eyes on” the ram when it slipped by us. Eventually, we were able to get him down and a dream, that I did not even know I had before being there in person, was fulfilled. One of the “top 3” on my list was gemsbok. Jacques was determined that we would make that happen on my last morning at Sandymount. After working 3 gemsboks for most of a morning and some not so good “KJ shots”, we were able to close the deal. Jacques knew that kudu was very high on my list (isn’t it for most of us?) and wanted me to have a chance at a mature bull. There are a lot of kudu at Sandymount and some decent bulls, but Jacques wanted us to experience more of South Africa so we changed venues. So, on day seven we transitioned to the NW Province to the Koedoeberg Game Farm. Unfortunately, it became quite obvious in a few hours that the place had been over hunted and not well maintained. Jacques immediately started working his connections and moved us to Tala Manzi Wildsplaas near Groot Marico for the rest of the hunt. It became obvious in working with Jacques these few days, that everything is about providing a quality hunt to his clients and he works hard to manage the unexpected circumstances to meet the clients’ interests as best he can. Tala Manzi was also an extremely nice venue, with two bedroom chalets for the clients that were among the best I have experienced in my travels; ~16 000 acres of mostly mountain terrain to hunt on. Jacques (Tala Manzi’s owner) and his staff were outstanding and the meals were all exceptional. We spent the last four days of my hunt looking for a quality kudu and nyala bull. We saw many animals including kudu, nyala, blue wildebeest, black wildebeest, mountain reedbuck, giraffe, blesbok, etc. Even had hippo and crocs at the local watering hole below the chalet we bunked in. Okert Olivier (JKO Safaris) joined us for these last 4 days as well. Long story short, we played hide and seek with some nice nyala bulls for a couple of days. Not being able to harvest one was not on the PH’s, they got me on a couple of shots but I was just not comfortable with pulling the trigger. Oh well, now I have a reason to go back for sure. With one day left Jacques, Jacques and Okert put together a plan to give me my opportunity at a good kudu bull. Early that morning Okert and I went to try to locate some nyala; everyone else went and set up on ridges glassing for kudu. Within an hour we got a call that they had a good kudu bull sighted and we headed their way. We tried a couple of times to work towards the “grey ghost” only to have him get nervous and start to move out. Eventually, we circled a few miles around to try to come in at a different angle while Jacques S. stayed on the ridge to keep him in sight. We were able to stalk in on him to about 115 yards and was able to close the deal. The teamwork, determination and focus from everyone to give me the opportunity will always resonate with me and something I will never forget. These guys knocked it out of the park to make it happen. As a closing opportunity to my 10 days in SA, we were able to get on a nice blue. Also, my buddy Phil was able to get a very nice zebra and blue. In summary, the experiences that I had with JKO Safaris at Sandymount and Tala Manzi were beyond anything that I could have dreamed of or planned for. Part of me knew what I was getting into from people I know that have hunted with Jacques, but to live it was something I will always remember. I know that there are many outfitters in Africa and that some “budget” ones will be less expensive than JKO Safaris. However, I am confident that the quality of the hunt, the focus and dedication of everyone involved in providing an amazing adventure and the quality of the animals speak highly of what they will provide. All of the animals that were harvested were very mature, older animals. One thing that I remember was how many times I was told “No” on what I thought was a good animal. Funny, I never got tired of hearing that because I knew there was something bigger and more special coming. In fact, the kudu and blue wildebeest may have been on their last winter. I left my home convinced that this was a once in a life time hunt and experience (at least that was what I convinced my wife). Without a doubt it was an experience of a life time, but rest assured I will be back Africa and it will be with JKO Safaris. Shout out to PHOENIX PHIL and Jacques Spamer for keeping the interest peaked all those years.