SOUTH AFRICA: First Time 10 Days In August With Pawprint Safaris

NW James

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Well, the time had finally come. Sunday, July 30th, and we were at Dulles Airport beginning our journey to South Africa. It had started a little less than a year ago when my neighbor and good friend Ryan had suggested hunting in Africa instead of a trip out west for elk. We had thrown some ideas around during the first week or 2 of dove season, and I just never gave it any serious consideration even after he gave me a few details comparing prices. It was a few weeks later when we were driving over to his grandfathers to hunt doves again that the wheels started in motion. My wife had jumped in his truck as we came by his house to go to the farm. I drove in mine, with another friend who was in town to visit. So Ryan tells Gwen on the ride over of his suggestion for Africa, and that was all it took. She brought it up to me briefly while hunting, and again on the ride home. After telling her of nearly 2 decades of discussing a trip with another close friend who had done South Africa and Botswanna when in his 20s, and never seeing it materialize, and despite traveling the US and Canada with him and his family on many other trips for big game and birds, maybe I just didn't think it possible. She was pretty excited about the idea, which of course motivated me more. After all, when we bought our house 5 years ago, the first comment she made about the great room was "You need to fill this with dead animals", and here we are now at the airport.
Thanks so much Ryan and Gwen. I love you both. (Just in completely different ways!).
So, 20-30 minutes of line to check in, another 20-30 of watching TSA do their thing (whatever that may be- they didn't even open my case) and seeing our gun cases go on the conveyor belt, we headed off for a quick meal before the flight. Finally aboard, in the air, enduring the background whine of the engines, (which I became acutely aware at some point after Ryan let me try his noise cancelling headphones- highly recommended), and constantly trying to find that position where you butt won't go numb any more. A quick stop in Dakar, then the last leg and we were on the ground. Rifle Permits had a rep waiting for us thanks to using their VIP service. He walked us down to where we met with Henri, and spotted Jonathon from Pawprints. A quick intro and we had the rifles checked and and were on our way to the truck and the drive to Pawprint's new base of operations at Balule Bush Lodge in Northwest Province. It was dark for the drive, so the features that stood out the most for the less than 2 hour ride were clearly the intermittent fires. Jonathon explained that they were no big deal, a regular occurance, and were usually intentional. We arrived at the lodge, got our stuff settled into our assigned chalets. The rooms were very spacious, with 2 smaller beds and a larger one ( maybe a queen size, I don't know my mattresses that well). There was a sliding glass door at the rear, with a patio and outdoor covered kitchen, and open fenced yard, overlooking what was now a dry pond. We went to the bar to meet everyone and make plans. Pieter explained that dinner would be shortly, and that Ryan would be hunting with Jonathon and Gwen and I would be with Jan. We planned to sleep in a bit, check the rifles and bow after breakfast and then go hunt. Dinner was fantastic, buffalo tenderloin steaks with a blue cheese cream sauce. I tend the remember the meat in every meal, not so much the vegetables, though there was plenty of variety through the week on both. On a side note, Gwen quickly became acquainted with Claudius, the chef, and began plans to exchange email addresses and recipes. We have had that blue cheese cream sauce twice now since getting home! It is awesome! We met Jan's wife and their new baby, as well as Kobus, who had owned the lodge before Pieter, and was with us throughout the week in various capacities and tended the bar most evenings as well.

Tuesday, August 1- we woke up, got ready and had the first full breakfast of many for the trip, then headed over to the range to check equipment. Ryan was first, and didn't like his first shot. He took another and was right where it should be. I set up my rifle on the bags, aimed at the bottom of what I guessed to be the 4" bullseye and squeezed of a shot. The call of "dead center" confirmed that my 300 win mag was still on, being just a little less than 2" high at 100 yards, and dead on at 200. Now to the bow. I had a crowd there as we walked up to the target and paced off 20 yards. I drew back my 65lb Hoyt Defiant, settled the top 20 yard pin in the 2"x4" piece of paper pinned to the backstop and waited for the shot to break as the pin floated around the target. It went off and everyone seemed satisfied with the shot. Same thing for 30, and 40 yards. At 50 though, I hit 2-3" low. I shot another low arrow. Frustrated I let another fly, also a little low.
I retrieved my practice arrows and decided to shoot a few at 40 to warm up then check 50 again. I was once a sponsored competitive archer, and this would not do. I had been told that if I wanted to spot and stalk, be prepared to shoot as far as 50, and I wasn't gonna go out unprepared. I went back to 50 and again grouped slightly low, though the other pins were perfect. I decided to check 50 again tomorrow, since some days your body just does things differently with a bow, just like a golf swing. Let's go hunt I told everyone.
I changed to sharp broadheads, and Gwen and I got in the truck with Jan, my tracker Max, and we left to hunt a nearby property. We weren't there 10 minutes when Max stopped to point out a duiker ewe watching us from thick cover. We continued to drive a bit, having the rifle out now for the first day, and next saw a small flash of grayish blur go through the bush near the trail we were on. Max and Jan spoke quickly in Afrikaans, then Jan explained that it was a pretty good duiker ram. Did I wanna go after it? Hell yeah I said. We quietly got off the truck. Gwen elected to stay back on this stalk, as did Max. 5 minutes in we spotted it looking straight away. Jan confirmed he was one we wanted as I tried to settle onto the sticks. 1 of the 3 legs hadn't locked, and the rifle dropped away into my forward hand as he trotted off unspooked. I told Jan I was comfortable shooting offhand at these ranges, and we circled off a ways to try to catch up. We did shortly. Jan said to just hold on him and shoot when he raised his head as he was feeding. Darned if he didn't keep his head down and walk behind more brush. We never caught up with him. Back at the truck I explained all to Gwen. I told her she would not believe how much animal poop there was out there. Nothing like I had ever imagined. We retired Jan's sticks for the trip and broke out my relatively new, identical telescoping tripod sticks. As we drove, we ran into impala sporadically, and finally a few nyala bulls. We all got down and made a stalk on them. After quite a while, and after seeing one through binoculars a few times, I finally got on the sticks as Jan described the animals I was seeing through my scope. He pointed out the obvious one on the left, then the right. Then asked if I could see the one in back. I couldn't. Then he turned his head and I saw him briefly before they took off. We lost them after that and returned to the truck. On the way back Jan said the 3rd one was a monster, and we should plan on coming back after lunch to look for that group. We drove bit more, before heading back to the lodge only 5 minutes away for lunch.
After lunch we returned to the same property with nyala at the forefront of our thoughts. Luckily, we ran into the landowner, who said he had seen 3 nyala bulls, one bigger than the others, in the opposite direction from where we had seen them last, and not long ago. We instantly headed off in the direction he recommended. A beautiful flat area with tons of tall yellow grass, I caught myself thinking how nice it would be to walk through with a shotgun, a pair of pointing dogs fliting in and out of sight in their search for pheasants. Back to reality as we began to transition to interspersed brush along with the tall grass, and I heard Max and Jan speaking in Afrikaans again and pointing uphill into a thicker area. I asked what was up without waiting for explanation. Jan said that Max had spotted the group a ways ahead of us. He then asked if I wanted to know just what Max's words in Afrikaans were. When I replied yes, he smiled and told me "he said it's f##*ing big!" We all laughed as we got down and quickly started the stalk. Two more times we set up the sticks and didn't get a chance, now hurrying to try to cut them off. I glanced back occasionally to make sure Gwen was keeping up, as I know my breathing was getting a little labored, and I wasn't quite ready to let her fall behind and have to double back to see if she was an effective leopard bait, as I told her could happen. Then we stepped out from cover as Max set up the sticks and I watched a nyala disappear in the grass. As I set up the rifle and tried to catch my breath another stepped out broadside at 75 yards or so. Jan said to shoot him. I could only see the top third of his body in the grass, so I aimed at a small gap in the grass as low as I could hold on him and began to squeeze the trigger. He sat still watching as I kept squeezing what was a 2 3/4lb trigger and nothing was happening. SHIT! I had the model 70 safety in the middle position still! A quick flick with my thumb, I still had the sight picture, and BOOM! I knew I had been focused because I saw him drop through the scope. You got him Jan said as we hurried up to see him. He handed me his 9mm pistol, stating that the safety was off, and to put a slug between his eye and his ear to stop the thrashing. I did, and he stopped. I had hit him high on the shoulder muscle, and probability damage the spine with the shock from the bullet. He was beautiful as expected. Jan reiterated again that this was truly a fine nyala bull. We took some pictures, then loaded him up as Jan suggested we spend the last 1 1/2 hours in a bow blind and see what comes out.

I will come back to the post to finish the story of day 1 in when I get a chance.

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Looking forward to more!
 
I saw Jonathan at the airport waiting to pick you guys up.
 
More, more, more.....
 
A nice start, looking forward to the rest of the story and pics. if you have them.
 
I like it so far! I can just see the tall grass!
 
So to continue day 1.
We had Max drop us off at a bow blind to settle in for the early evening. I was pretty excited to have gotten an animal and turned around to hunt again within an hour. The blind was spacious for 3 people, located at an intersection of rough road. It was situated about 10 yards back from 1 corner, and had a salt block on a opposite corner at the edge of the road, 30 yards from the blind. Pretty heavy brush all around, with some tall grass for 100 yards or so directly opposite the blind. We sat and waited comfortably, Gwen and I watching as various birds came and dusted in a depression behind the salt block. As the light started to fade, Gwen was up close to the window, happily snapping pictures of the francolin and other birds, when she exclaimed "oh crap, something is coming, backing away from the window and settling back to a spot out of the way. 3 blue wildebeest bulls trotted up to the salt block and began actively licking at it. As they did, Jan watched with binoculars, evaluating them. He pointed out one that was older with heavy bases. They shifted positions several times, and eventually he had a chance to evaluate them all. He explained that there was one that was probably wider, but I liked the old heavier one. After a few more minutes he repositioned and was broadside. Jan was already kneeling at the bottom of the window, cellphone in hand to film the shot. I stood behind him and smoothly drew the bow, anchored, then glanced down at Jan's head to make sure my bottom limb would clear him. I let the arrow fly, and we saw the illuminated green nock disappear as it struck, instantly making me think pass through. The animal raised and turned, running out of sight through the only tall grass around. We called Max and immediately went out to the spot they were standing and looked for blood. There was some, but not a lot. Then we found the arrow, with blood only about 8" up it, and the steel ferruled slick trick broadhead was missing, snapped off at the end of the shaft. The fmj arrow had a slight bend in the last 3" as well. Looking back now I wished I had a even heavier arrow with a higher front of center, though that one was adequate for a good shot at 520 grains and 12%. We quickly reviewed the video, and realized the lighted nock went out when the arrow hit the shoulder blade, giving the impression of the pass through in the low light. My shot was too far to my left, and forward on the animal, about mid height. We started off in the direction he went, and after a short while decided we would have to follow up first thing in the morning.
We went back to the lodge, stopped in the bar for a drink and met everyone by the fire to discuss the day. Everyone was impressed with the nyala. Pieter had gone to the skinning shed and rough measured it at 27 3/4", telling me that Rowland Ward started at 27". I was happy to hear that, but still thought to myself about the high hit on him, despite aiming high due the grass. And the wildebeest was gonna keep me up that night. Jan consoled me concerning hitting the nyala higher than I wanted, pointing out that I can shoot through light grass when it's directly in front of the animal like that, and pointed out that "dead is dead". We had a nice evening beside the fire, a great dinner, and retired after a while longer at the fire to hope we could find my wildebeest in the morning.
 
Good stuff. Add in some pics! By the way --> Great video on pawprint Facebook
 
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Thanks Lee M. I loved that fireside interview that we filmed. I channeled my best Ricky Bobby in that one. My wife couldn't believe Pieter put it on Facebook. Do you think the bad word at the end would get me in trouble if I posted it here later?
Here is the nyala. He was 27" plus.
I have some work to do today and guests in town, but I will do my best to post some more tonight.
 
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That video will not be ok here. The last word would be edited for sure. LOL I think that video was after a few drinks. ;)
 
Thanks for the advice Bill. Would it change your opinion of me if I told you I haven't had a drink in 29 years?
 
Nice Nyala, congrats!
 
you want me to change from liking you to not .LOL So You had a drink that night or your now 29 years and a few weeks.
 
If you did not have a drink that night man oh man were you feeling the joy of hunting Africa then. You were a little pumped up that night and made me laugh after watching that video.
 
No alcohol involved whatsoever on my part in that video. Jan and I had been having a good time, talking about funny movies and whatnot for the last few days. No rehearsal, he just asked his wife to start filming and said to play into his questions. I was feeling petty confident though. If you get to know me a little better, you'd find that some people might find me slightly cocky. I'll talk trash with the best of them in a good natured manner, then do my darndest to back it up, and you will either love me or be jealous! When Ryan watched that video for the first time, his expression was priceless, because he knew all too well what would be coming. You should have seen the effort he put in all week to try to find my wounded wildebeest and shoot it himself. Every night he'd remind me of how he was gonna look for it.He said he wanted the joy of coming to my house for the rest of his life and pointing out that without him I wouldn't have it mounted on the wall.
 
well then that's why I like you then We are the same kind of person really. Plus I really like ryans thinking and I would do the same thing to my friends and them to me. You will make new member to the Paw print family for sure.
 
Can u pm or post me the blue cheese recipe please. Thank you
 
Trust me everytime we hit riaans place i was on the lookout for that blue! I wanted to walk in his house everytime look at it and say your welcome!
 
So, beginning day 2 after a night of rolling around awake, worrying about finding that wildebeest. We skipped the normal big breakfast, having early coffee, tea, some of Claudius' delicious vanilla muffins, or cereal. I opted for the muffins, and we got back on the truck to get over to the spot where we left off. I took the rifle, and Jan explained that if we saw him, once we had confirmed it was the wounded animal, that we would make every effort to put him down at any opportunity. We followed his trail for the first 300 yards through 4' tall grass at pretty good speed. I didn't see a lot of blood, but we were moving fast. Then into heavy cover, and as we slowed down I could see the blood trail a little better, and was a little more hopeful. Let me say now, I was pretty darned impressed with how good Max was at tracking. Twice we found spots where he had stopped for a good while, with puddles of blood, one dried up and the other looking fresher, but Jan explained that it wasn't warm, so it was pretty old. There was evidence that jackals were pushing him through the night. After an hour and a half, and nearly 3km, we saw the last of the blood, and shortly afterwards lost the tracks. We spent more than 2 hours circling and looking for more sign, but never found any. We left after letting the landowner know, and asking him to keep an eye out for him or any sign of scavengers. I was pretty depressed now, though Jan wouldn't let that last long. When we got back to the lodge, Pieter explained that he had another property lined up for the afternoon. He said he had reviewed the video of the bow shot on the wildebeest and didn't think it was a lethal wound, but to hope for the best. We had a nice lunch, then packed up the rifle and bow to go off to another property. We met the landowner at one of his buildings, and chatted briefly before he sent us out with one of his men, along with myself, Gwen, Jan and Max. Another beautiful and diverse property. Lots of tall grass and open areas, as well as thick brush, with hills as well. We saw a lot of blue wildebeest, cow kudus, bushbuck and steenbok. Also a few ostriches. At one point we drove past a fence post that was covered in bees. They didn't appreciate our presence, and were swarming about the truck for a minute as we urged Max to drive faster to get away. Only the man from the farm was stung once, and we were happy to be safely away from their fence post. Not long after, we saw a nice steenbok, and decided to go after him. He gave us the slip before any major excitement ensued. Later, as we drove down a side of the mountain from the top, we spotted a zebra in a patch of sunlight on the opposite hillside. We got off the truck and I ranged it at nearly 300 yards. I quickly explained to Jan that I was easily comfortable at that distance with sticks if I could lean my body against the truck. He said we could get closer, and the stalk began. We used a bend in the road to cover some ground, then got in the brush to cover some more. We had the sun at our backs, so that was good too. As we got to 220 or so, Jan explained that there were several more in the brush above the first one. We glassed for a few minutes, then they discussed a few seconds in Afrikaans, and we were stealthily moving again. Finally the sticks were set up and I knew I was up. Range was 165 . I got the rifle up and got as comfortable as I could on the downward slope. The zebras were now above me on the opposite hillside, and still clueless as to our presence. Jan described where the others were in relation to the one now in the open, and said to wait to see if the others would move a bit. It was amazing to see just how well a group of zebras could blend into their surroundings. I would have thought they would be much easier to see. After a couple of minutes, a nice one steppped clear, and Jan said to shoot. I drew a breath, let some out and tried to tell myself to let the shot break on its own as the crosshairs danced across the triangle on its shoulder. The gun went off and zebras exploded from the brush, running right to left across the hillside. Words were exchanged briefly in hushed tones by all, then Max pointed up the hill with his head turned, listening, as we all stopped whispering. After a minute or 2, we were gathered up and headed to the bottom of the hill, then starting up to the area of the shot. As we neared the area, again Max motion for us to stop and turned his head listening intently. We went a short distance more and spotted a zebra facing away from us at 30 yards or so. You could hear a gurgling sound as it breathed, though we couldn't see any blood to confirm it was already hit. As Jan whispered directions to hold on the spine while we confirmed it was ours, it took off up hill. 5 seconds later we heard it fall. The spot where we had watched it was covered with bright red blood with lots of bubbles. We hustled up the hill to find a nice mare zebra. We started getting pictures while Max and the other man from the property went to get the truck and find a way up to us. Another great day in the books. We stopped on the way out to thank the landowner and chat a bit, then back to the lodge where Gwen could get a well deserved Lion at the bar, sit around the fire til all had returned, then another of Claudius' dinners featuring black wildebeest steaks with another delicious sauce, salad and fresh baked bread. A little while longer between the bar and the fire, trading story's of victory with Ryan and Jonathon, by now nicknamed Team Redbeard, and we were ready for a good nights sleep to go after black wildebeest in the am.
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