Let me start off this report by saying I’m not a person who likes to write, writing is not a labor of love for me, but I feel when you find a person and place that goes above and beyond every expectation you ever had for a hunt the story deserves to be told. Such is the case for me while hunting with Alex Goss of Blackthorn Safaris in the Free State of South Africa.
This was my fifth trip to Africa, and by any standard my best trip. My previous trips have been to South Africa (my first trip as with many of us) for plains game, then to Zimbabwe for a free range buffalo hunt with none seen, then to Mozambique for another free range buffalo hunt with a very average bull taken, I shot what the PH directed me to shoot without even looking the bull over and walked away mad at myself and disappointed. Then to Zambia where we hunted hard for 10 days and saw hundreds of buffalo but no hard bossed bulls. This led me to my trip this year to South Africa for my hunt with Blackthorn Safaris.
I’m sure most of you have never heard of Alex Goss or his company, Blackthorn Safaris, as was the case with me. I saw a post of a Buffalo one of his clients had shot and it was a dandy. So like many of us, I made a positive comment congratulating them on a wonderful bull, just the kind I dreamed of. Alex responded to my comment in a very nice manner and told me if I was ever interested in a bull like the one pictured he would certainly love to help me find him. This started a long string of emails and texts with Alex over the next few months. The more I “talked” with him the more impressed I became. I started to search for hunting reports about his company and found very little. When questioned about this it became clear he was booking all his clients from Europe and none from America. Being a young man he was having a difficult time breaking into the American market, something he really wanted to do. The more I spoke with him the more impressed I became. He answered every email or text promptly and called and talked with me many times. He sent me a number of references which all gave glowing reports. Most importantly he impressed me with how nice and good natured he seemed when I talked with him. After being in the education business for 31 years I like to think I am a good judge of character and Alex totally impressed me with his honest answers and friendly spirit. I decided I was going to trust him for my next search for that elusive buffalo.
After retiring from being a school Principal. In 2020 I met Joe Thomas through a mutual friend who was a professional Bass fisherman on the tour for 30 years and was starting a new hunting show for TV. He needed a cameraman and I had time so this started a 20 year hunting/working relationship where we traveled all over the world filming hunts for American Archer on the Outdoor Channel. I told Alex this might be a great way to get him some exposure with American hunters and he agreed. We arranged a 10 day hunt for Joe Thomas where I would be filming him on an Archery hunt for Sable and Nyala, and I would hunt Buffalo and Sable with a rifle when not filming Joe. Accompanying us would be one of my best friends David who would also be hunting Buffalo, Sable, and anything else he liked with one of Alex’s other professional hunters. David, like Joe would also be using archery equipment but was willing to use a rifle if the need arose. He had a buffalo hunt that everyone dreams of, (or fears), but I’m going to allow him to tell his story in his own words. I promise you it will be an exciting read. So began the wait for our group’s hunt which would begin on May 20 through the 29th.
We boarded our flights with Delta Airlines, flying out of Cincinnati, Ohio through Atlanta, and finally landing in Johannesburg. The flights went off without a hitch and when we landed we were greeted by a person holding a sign with our names who escorted us to a private line to clear customs. Then she escorted us to meet another person who walked us through clearing my firearm, and then took us outside to meet a representative from African Sky hotel where we ate a wonderful meal and got a great nights rest. The next morning we awoke to meet our driver who would take us to our hunting lodge. All of these things were arranged by Alex and I have to say it made getting through the airport the easiest, most hassle free trip I’ve had to Africa.
After a 5 1/2 hour drive (which we chose over another jumper flight) we arrived at the beautiful lodge in the middle of the 50,000 acre facility. The lodge was set at the base of some beautiful mountains and we could tell there was every type of terrain you could possibly want. There was thick bush, open savanna, streams, and valleys. In short the place was beautiful. After a quick lunch (the first of many wonderful meals prepared by our chef), we headed to the rifle range and confirmed my Blaser R8 in 375 H&H with 300 Winchester Magnum had made the trip in good order and we took our first ride. That evening for some unknown reason the buffalo seemed to be everywhere we went. Alex and our tracker Jakob just shook their heads because at every turn there seemed to be a group of cows, calves, and young bulls. That evening we saw several bulls larger than any I’d seen on any previous trip and the video camera was running non-stop, Alex and Jakob assured me none of the bulls we saw were what we were looking for. He also said, “don’t expect to see this many buffalo every day”. For some reason the buffalo had just turned out to greet us at our new home.
The next day we started our hunt in earnest. The routine was to get up at 6:00, eat a light breakfast, hunt until 12:30 or 1:00, drive back to the lodge for lunch and then go out and hunt until dark. Hunting in May was very different than any of my previous trips to Africa which had all taken place in October or November. May had cool weather and days getting shorter. Decent shooting light started at 7:00 AM and it was getting dark at 6:00 PM. Temperatures ranged from 36 - 70 degrees, so hunting was very comfortable.
That first day we had a good look at the ranch and I have to say we were impressed. Driving to the high points we were able to glass into the valleys and sidehills for our target animals. If a good animal was spotted we planned our stalk and made our best attempts. The plan was if we came across a great Sable or Nyala in a location that was right for a stalk with the bow, Joe would hunt with me running camera. If we spotted the “proper” Buffalo I was up with my rifle and Joe would film me, not for the TV show but for my own use and for Alex to use on his website. This plan worked out great with both of us having many great stalks and plenty of time hunting for both of us. As we all know they all don’t work out as planned. The wind changes, the animal just moves away, or upon close inspection you just decide to pass. In the end, Joe ended up taking a very beautiful and rather rare, old Sable bull over 42 inches that was red in color, not the traditional black. This was not a young bull as his teeth were worn down to the gums and with heavy long horns, just happened to be red, and only the second one they had ever seen in this color. Late in the hunt on the 8th day Joe also took a beautiful and super old Nyala bull that measured a great 29 1/4 inches. When we walked up to this bull that was taken with an incredible stalk at 25 yards, we were immediately taken by his heavy long horns. Upon further inspection we saw that this old bull was super thin in weight. His teeth were almost gone and everyone agreed he would not have lasted through the winter. This was just the type of animal we wanted to harvest. These two animals will be seen on the American Archer show sometime this fall if you are interested in seeing the hunts.
Now to my hunts. On the third day of the hunt, within 15 minutes of leaving the lodge Jakob spotted a Sable high on the side of the mountain. There was absolutely no way for Joe to get into position for a shot with a bow so I elected to give it a try with my Blaser. Since we were also looking for buffalo I had the 375 barrel on with the 1.5 X 5 scope. With some careful stalking we were able to sneak up to 160 yards below the Sable. After Alex and I looked him over we decided he was perfect in every was. One clean broadside shot while the bull was feeding with his head down and I held in my hands a beautiful Sable bull measuring 41 1/2 inches and jet black. To say I was happy was an understatement. A Sable had always been on my “list” and I was able to achieve it cleanly and done the proper way.
As Alex had promised the buffalo were harder to find than they were that first evening. We hunted hard every day for just the right bull. I can’t tell you how many times we would glass a bull only to hear Alex say, “not old enough”. These were bulls that anyone would die for!. Many over 40 inches but with sharp horn tips, totally black faces, and still with cows. I was having a ball. This was just the hunt I wanted with the PH that was not going to allow me to make a mistake, and at the same time wasn’t going to try to convince to me shoot an animal I didn’t want to shoot. I was in heaven.
Move on to the 4th day of our hunt. Late in the afternoon we spotted what appeared to be a super bull all by himself. He was in the rather open plains on top of the mountains, but still with enough cover if done properly to make a good approach. This bull was at least 1 1/2 miles away and it was getting late so me had to move quickly. On foot we moved to cut the distance using washouts and clumps of cover. Keeping a close eye on him as he fed we were able to cut the distance down to 160 yards and were looking him over carefully. This bull was magnificent! We both agreed he was 45 inches wide or maybe a little better. He was hard bossed but at the distance we were we couldn’t tell exactly how wide his bosses were but he was totally hard. He wasn’t a super old bull as he hadn’t worn down his tips but the thing that impressed me most was the size of his body. I’ve never seen a bull with a body as large as this buffalo. He was simply a tank, and I stared just in awe of him. I had told Alex, and he agreed that there would be no long range shooting at any bull and I wanted to make the final call on whether to take him or to pass. We also agreed at the start that he would not shoot at my bull unless it was a life or death situation which was very important to me. I badly wanted this to be totally my decision, my shot. Well we had one more clump of cover to reach which would put us inside my desired shooting distance of 50 yards. About half was to that clump of cover one sudden wind shift and the bull threw his nose into the air and was running out of our lives forever. We looked at each other and just grinned! We had just seen the bull of a lifetime and came within yards of getting to the right place for the shot only to see him run away, but it was as much fun as I’ve ever had on a buffalo hunt. We had the privilege of being in the presence of a marvelous animal and he had won. God it was fun!
Now into the 5th day of the hunt Jakob once again spotted a lone bull (always a good sign when they are alone) about a mile away. Using a ridge we were quickly able to cut the distance between us and got to within good glassing distance. The bull looked very promising with good width and definitely hard bosses.
At this point I want to drop back and say I had told Alex that I had four criteria for a good buffalo that I wanted to shoot, age, width, heavy hard bosses, and pretty shape. If the bull had three of the four of these criteria I would shoot him. He had to be of proper age, and he had to be totally hard bossed. If he had super wide bosses and not a lot of drop I would shoot him. If he had a lot of drop but not super wide bosses I’d shoot him. These were my own predetermined rules that I would live by. Having been on three pervious buffalo hunts and shooting an average bull on one, I was totally willing to leave this hunt not shooting a bull if he wasn’t the bull I wanted and I wanted to make that final call.
Back to the stalk. After glassing him at several hundred yards we decided we wanted to make a final stalk. This required us to swing around a hill causing us to lose sight of him for quite a while. When we got around the hill we were able to finally locate him but he now was standing with a group of Black Wildebeest so we couldn’t get any closer. We watched him for about 30 minutes and suddenly he just decided to slowly go back the same way he had come. This required us to retrace our steps going back around the large hill. When we finally made it around with the wind just right we came out of the cover and there he was! He was feeding at 50 yards and totally unaware of our presence. It was now time for me to make the final decision. I looked him over from top to bottom. Definitely a mature bull. His tips weren’t badly worn down and his face wasn’t very gray. Nice hard bosses which Alex said were very wide. His horn width Alex judged at “40 or a bit better”. By now I realized Alex always judged width on the low side so I knew he was wide. Now for his shape. His horns were of typical buffalo shape with not a huge amount of drop, the shape you see in most pictures. I had all the information and it was now time to put up or shut up. This was a bull anyone would be happy to go home with. A proper bull. I looked at Alex and said, “Alex, will you be upset if I pass on him?” He looked at me, smiled and said, “heck no, we’ll keep on hunting”. With that we walked away from this beautiful bull. Alex later told me, “you walked away from a great bull, but I didn’t want to influence you. I wanted you to decide”. Here is a picture of the bull I passed on after we allowed him to walk away and my nerves calmed down enough for me to take a picture.
Now to day 7 of our hunt. I was beginning to kick myself a little for passing that bull but I was still content in my decision. We hunted early morning not seeing any bulls worth going after and I was beginning to think about the reality that I might go home without my “proper bull”however I still felt confident that in this area and with this team we still had a great chance to be successful. We had seen enough good bulls that I felt there was still time for me.
After covering a lot of territory and stopping to glass at a number of spots we stopped the vehicle below a ridge where my friend David and his PH Vella had seen a promising small group of bulls the day before. Alex and I were looking at one area and Jakob moved down the ridge farther to glass. Suddenly Jakob came back and said he had spotted a small group of five bulls in some tall grass and one looked very good. When Jakob said a bull looked good you could take it to the bank it was a good bull. We quickly made our way down the ridge to where we could glass the bulls. We quickly spotted the small group but now we could only see four bulls, the large bull Jakob had seen had disappeared. We glassed for some time, carefully changing positions along the ridge and finally Alex found a horn tip sticking out of the tall grass. Our bull had bedded down while the other 4 bulls stood watch some 40 yards away. Problem was we could only see a little less than half of one horn so we couldn’t make a good decision. We watch him for probably 15 minutes trying to get a better view of him. Alex said he was definitely an old bull with worn tips. He said he could tell he was wide from the amount of horn we could see and from one brief glimpse he had gotten when he moved his head before I had gotten in position. He said I can make him stand up and you will have to make a very quick decision to shoot to not to shoot. I didn’t want to rush my decision and we decided to just wait. Luckily for some unknown reason the bull turned his head exposing his entire horn and that was all it took to decide. This was the bull I was looking for. He had great width, very heavy bosses, he was very old, and nice shape. He met all my criteria. Alex grunted like a buffalo, once, twice, and on the third grunt up came the bull. First standing front on and then turning to face his four buddies standing off 40 paces away. As soon as he turned broadside and Alex gave me the go ahead, the trigger on the Blaser broke clean. The bull was hit very had with the soft bullet and he slowly trotted to his four buddies that were now wondering what was happening. He stood by them and we repositioned ourselves for a follow up shot with me on the sticks but I couldn’t shoot because there was one of his palls standing right behind him. Suddenly the four young bulls moved away, trotting off. The bull of my dreams was standing all alone unable to follow his buddies. I have a rule I follow with all game. If they are still standing keep shooting. Even though I knew he was hit well from the first shot I put a second shot into his lungs on the opposite side of the first shot. He took that second shot like the strong bull he was and started to walk slowly straight way from me. The third shot took him straight away and we later found the Woodleigh Hydro Solid had traveled the length of his body and lodged in his front shoulder. He stopped once again, still standing and I put one more through his left side front shoulder and he was down for good. Falling in the tall grass we were unable to see any part of him but we knew exactly where he had fallen and had a perfect view of the area. We patiently waited a while then approached the spot. We could never see him until we were within 5 yards of him and luckily he was as they say down for the count. I had MY buffalo!
My bull was everything I was hoping for. He was old with worn down tips and teeth and a gray face, he was wide measuring 42 7/8 inches, and with heavy bosses measuring 15 1/2 inches. In short, he was everything I ever wanted in a bull.
After taking this great old bull I decided we still had some time so we decided to chase a Springbok we had seen the evening after taking the buffalo. Alex said this one was special and he would not allow me to hunt any other Springbok. We continued looking for him glassing hundreds of different Springboks but not the right Springbok. Finally on the morning of our last day of hunting we found him. After a long stalk and with the help of another Springbok chasing my buck we were able to get within 130 yards and a quick shot off the sticks I had this beauty. He finally measured 16 1/4 inches and beautiful shape.
I was also able to take a nice Warthog at 160 yards. I’d never shot a Warthog on my other African hunts and I felt I needed to get one. This was actually the first nice Warthog I've seen on any of my trips to Africa, something Alex could not believe.
In closing I’d like to say I couldn’t have chosen a better PH for my hunt, or a better place to do the hunt. I can’t recommend Alex Goss, owner of Blackthorn Safaris enough. He is a first class individual that knows his game and loves what he is doing. His enthusiasm comes through in everything he does. At my age the experience is the most important thing and Alex made this trip memorable. We laughed until we cried, ate great food prepared by a chef that can sing as well as cook, and took animals that I’m proud of. What more can anyone ask? Feel free to call me if you would like to discuss my hunt or want more information about Blackthorn Safaris.