SOUTH AFRICA: First Trip: The Ins & Outs Getting To & Enjoying Nick BOWKER HUNTING SOUTH AFRICA

TheRealHorskin

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This will be long winded for many but I wan to include as much as I can for other first timers on my experience from making the decision to the leg work getting there and the final result. It was worth the time and money for sure. I hope you enjoy the read.

I often thought of doing a safari as a young hunter here in the Northeast US and even my step-father had talked about doing it at some point. I started researching online and stumbled upon this great resource and quietly browsed for quite some time. In March of 2023 I had decided it was time to seriously look into the affordability of hunting in Africa and where should I even begin as a destination. It became quickly apparent the South Africa would give me the best bang for the buck and I was in a place where I could afford it, however my step-father was getting ready to retire and could not commit to making the trip with me. I was going to be doing this solo.

After deciding on the location it was time to really hone in on an outfitter that would offer what I was looking for. I did not want a "canned" hunt. So I read many many pages of hunt reports. I also browsed several outfitter's websites. During this beginning stage of my investigation many outfitter's websites turned me off due to their lack of information. In today's digital age a website and how it is maintained and updated is crucial. Information needs to be easily found because when spending a fair amount of money a client does not want to waste several hours looking for an answer to a simple question or transparency. I can honestly say there are probably several outfitter's who did not get a fair chance at my business just based off their website alone.

After doing this research I had it down to 3 possible outfitters. I continued to comb through their websites along with specific searches for reviews and hunt reports. This is where it got tougher for me. Several outfitter's offered packaged hunts and they also offered to custom tailor a package. This is a whole different rabbit hole to go down, however it really depends on budget and personal choice when it comes to the animals you intend to target. I found that there were now two outfitter's left on my list due to those personal choices. I knew for sure I wanted a Zebra and Kudu which you can find at most outfitter's so now the competition for my business is on and who would win would quickly be sorted out. I kept finding myself lured to a specific outfitter's website as I had many questions developing during the course of menu selection for the vast information on the animals. It not only helped me figure out my list but they even gave me a rough idea on what to expect after the hunt for the taxidermy.

So now that I found a website and read several Hunt Reports I was feeling very confident that I would be going to Africa to hunt. Nick Bowker Hunting was the destination I had in mind. I sent an email asking for a special package consisting of Zebra, Kudu, Black Wildebeest, Blue Wildebeest, and Impala. I received a prompt reply given the 6 hour difference in time zones. I brought up the guns I had available since I was wanting to use my own rifle even though camp rifles were included in the price. I decided quickly that my .338 Win Mag was going to be on this trip and dates were set. Now how do I get there?

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Getting there for a guy leaving North America for the first time ever created a whole new layer of questions but Nick's website lead me to Gracy Travel and Hannah was fantastic. She made it a breeze to get flights, insurance, and even my gun permit figured out. Bruce, their man on the ground in RSA rolled out the red carpet the moment I arrived. But there is a lot more that took place between committing to the trip and arrival.

Finding a Customs office close to me took a minute and additional time to get my form 4457 done, which is a must. The rules keep changing on this form so be sure to check the requirements on this form since the date on it could cause hassle down the road, especially if you do not use a service to assist getting a firearm to your destination. I highly recommend using a service for this every time. I watched people struggle when they tried to cut this corner and it does not make sense when you are spending thousands of dollars for a hunt.
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Practice, practice, practice.... Shooting sticks are the norm and I am glad I was able to get some and practice before arriving. If I did not I think my success would have been much lower and I will explain shortly as we are getting to the meat and potatoes of this report.

I made a choice to have my hunt filmed and trimmed some taxidermy costs to do this. I used the recommendation of Igala Productions whom has worked with Nick before. His youtube page gave me a good opportunity to see what I would be paying for and I cannot wait to see the result. I was met at Port Elizabeth by Nick, Ben, and Lisa who where there to take myself and three gentleman to camp. At this point I knew whom Nick and Ben were but not Lisa. Lisa was there from Igala to start filming the adventure I was embarking on. At this time we loaded our luggage and gear into the Bakkies to begin our drive to camp. This is when I learned that I would be spending my time with Ben and Lisa for this hunt. Ben and I had great banter during the drive, Lisa was a little quiet but by day 3 of the hunt she warmed up to having me as a client.

Along the way to camp we stopped and got meat pies, which I highly recommend for anyone visiting this area. I enjoyed the Lamb & Mint that was suggested and after enjoying it I feel as though it is something that has been missing from my diet for entirely too long. Upon arrival at camp we settled into our rooms. Which to be honest were quite impressive for a hunting trip.
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After we relaxed for a bit we took a short drive to the range area to verify my rifle was still in good order. A single shot from the bench on paper proved she was. Another shot on sticks to steel proved I was ready to go, so I thought. More on this later.

We returned to the lodge and were greeted by Elizabeth whom made us some snacks while we enjoyed some drinks before dinner and got to know each other. I will say Ben and I hit it off instantly and not only was he my PH, he is now a friend that I will cherish having with me for this experience. That is one thing I can strongly say about this outfit, they become friends and it is not just a transaction and a number for them. They truly put everything into your success and lift you up if you fail. I highly recommend @Nick BOWKER HUNTING SOUTH AFRICA !!!!!!!
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Hunting Day 1: June 11, 2024

We got up nice and early enjoyed a cup of coffee and a light breakfast. Ben decided we would start the hunt off with an Impala. When we arrived to the area we would be looking for a nice ram we took a short stroll to a cliffside to view the valley below. We saw several Impala in the valley but were quickly busted by some baboons not far from our vantage point. This is the moment I learned to hate baboons as they ruined any opportunity to conduct a stalk when they jumped down from the cliffside into the valley scaring away the large herd of Impala. We stayed alert and spotted more Impala moving in and some warthogs, however this would not be our morning. We drove around in the bakkie and continued to search for our prey to no avail, not due to lack of Impala but do to "we can do much better" mindset of Ben. We returned to the lodge and had a great lunch and a nice rest. We set out in the early afternoon on the search again but to know avail when it came to finding the perfect trophy Impala.

We returned to the lodge for an excellent dinner and discussed the next days plan. This plan caught me off guard. We were going to travel to one of Ben's mate's properties for an over night stay and two days of hunting for a big kudu, blue wildebeest, and possibly a red hartebeest that I had decided to add to my list two days before my departure. We would be wheels up at 5am to make the 2.5 hour journey and be ready to see Kudu at first light.
 
Hunting Day 2: June 12, 2024

We got going right at 5am and boy was that difficult with all the traveling and time zone difference, it was 11pm back home, which is past my bedtime. However the excitement to see what the day would bring snapped any tiredness right out of my body. We picked up a couple of the property owner's men and set out into the hillsides of Queensland. Not even 10 minutes into our journey we saw a Kudu bull, however it was a nice bull Ben said "we can do better" and off we we went further into the bush. We saw several Kudu in this area however no bulls that Ben thought was worthy of my Sako .338 Win Mag and the Barnes 210gr TTSX that I hand loaded for this adventure. We had a packed lunch with us so we decided to head to a different area of the property and to the residence we would be staying at. We dropped off our gear and met one of the owners, Ashley. She showed me my room which was impressive yet again and beyond what I was thinking it would be.
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We drove to where we would be hunting for the afternoon and enjoyed our packed lunch. Shortly after we finished eating we were on a stalk as some Blue Wildebeest had appeared. Ben scanned the herd looking for the perfect bull. They spooked and I thought it was done but then Ben said " get on the sticks". I did and just down the hillside was a small group of the Blue Wildebeest. After some short communication and ranging I was on target and let off a bark from my .338. I had miss judged my angle on the down hill quartering away bull and the bullet struck too far back and now the chase began. We stayed focused and calm while watching the prey take off. Eventually he stopped on a damn between two ponds and we slowly worked our way to about 350yds from him. It was not a safe place to shoot so we had to wait for him to cooperate and move again.

After a few moments, which I honestly needed to catch my breath from the chase, Ben was able to verify that this now lone bull was my original target and then he decided to move to a better and safer place for me to conduct an attempt at a shot. I was told he was at 275yds and I dialed my Leupold CDS dial and let off another bark and hit him but he would not go down. I worked the action and let another fly and he was still moving. So again I shot and now was out of ammo in the gun. This shot had started to put him down as I grabbed more bullets from my wallet on my belt. I loaded one in the mag as Ben assisted and put one in the tube. The bull was moving slower now but not down so I let another fly and over his back it went. Again I worked the action and fired as he was finally dropping to the ground.

After all the excitement and shooting he finally laid at rest. 6 shots 1 complete miss but my bull Blue Wildebeest that we decided to name Swiss was down. I knew they were tough but not quite this tough.
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After dealing with Swiss we were called by the landowner about a Kudu on the other side of the property so we took a drive over. After a short stalk it was determined he was a good animal except for the broken horn on one side. So we headed back to the house for the night for a great dinner and some drinks.

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Hunting Day 3: June 13, 2024

The property owner Dylan decided to join us for the hunt for the Kudu in the morning. He is a great guy and definitely fun to cruise around in the Bakkie with. We travelled back to the area we were in the morning before and only saw cow Kudu. He had something up his sleeve and we started up a very rough and steep two track. As we were making our trip up to the top of the mountain we spotted some Kudu on the opposite side of the valley. Upon inspection a great Kudu was seen and the sticks were up however he moved in to thick cover being the "grey ghost" we so cherish. The views from the top were impressive. However, no kudu.

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We arrived back at the house had a quick lunch and decided it was time to go and find a Red Hartebeest. We found the Red Hartebeest rather quickly but some Blue Wildebeest scared them off through two valleys. We hiked the two valleys until we could see them further up hill from the plateau we were on. I believe at this point we had hiked 5-6 miles uphill both ways and that is when Ben said to me " You're going to hate me, but he is not the one for you." So we ventured back to Dylan and the Bakkie. We came up with a plan along the way after seeing several Impala herds that did not have a great ram in them to check the opposite side of the property where there was another dam and pond. We saw a couple giraffes on this two track and all of a sudden the Bakkie stopped and Ben grabbed the sticks and said get on them....

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At approximately 180-190yds out were two impala rams on the hillside. I adjusted my CDS dial chambered the .338 and confirmed that my target was the one further up the hill facing us. I took my time and rested the crosshairs on his chest and squeezed the trigger. Bang flop Impala down. When we walked up I had the dial back to zero and a round chambered incase he got up, but that was not the case. I did not realize how big his horns were until I got there. I am very impressed with this ram.


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Since it was getting late and we still had drive ahead of us to get back to Hopewell Lodge we hustled to load up the Impala and get to the skinning shed. Marvin, our tracker, got to work quickly to prepare the Impala for a euro mount and then we took off to the house to get our gear loaded. We made the drive back and had a fantastic dinner. The next day we would attempt Kudu again but on the main lodge properties.

Hunting Day 4: June 15, 2024

I could not edit the dates in the previous posts as I caught the error too late.

We got a normal start for breakfast and I was able to share the adventure and successes of the days away from Hopewell with the other hunters at camp. We departed and spotted some Kudu at first light after a little driving around. There was a Kudu bull in this group that was worth our efforts for a stalk. Our stalk was going well…

A herd of Red Hartebeest was approaching from the left and spooked the Kudu herd. So Ben watched the Kudu carefully and abandoned the stalk on them. He watched where they went and said we will try to find them in the afternoon however there is a fantastic Red Hartebeest in the group. We made a plan and set out the stalk. We got to 260yds and Ben confirmed we had a shooter. He wanted to try and get us a little closer however we got spotted and the Hartebeest took off up the hill. When he stopped he was silhouetted faint the skyline between two trees. The sticks were up and I was on. Ban gave me the range of 305yds and I dialed accordingly. I set the crosshairs on his shoulder exhaled and squeezed the trigger. The .338 Win Mag barked and down went the Red Hartebeest. I worked the action as Ben was saying “good shot” he is down. I was on the sticks and could not see him and Ben said look for his horns in the bush. I saw them and lifted off the sticks. A congratulatory handshake between Ben and I was done and we proceeded to make our way up hill for a few hundred yards. As we were walking Ben reminded me to verify I had set back to zero in case he had got up as we approached. We arrived to the magnificent trophy who did not want to die. I put a mercy shot in him and Ben called the tracker to come with the Bakkie. My shot was perfect nd the Barnes 210gr TTSX had stopped just under the skin on the off shoulder.

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The last two successful hunts boosted my confidence, especially for a guy who never has shot at game over 100yds in the thick wood of the northeast US. We loaded up and went back to camp early to relax and enjoy lunch.

The skinner recovered the bullet and upon weight check at home it was 207.8 grains or 98.9% retention at 305yds. I was very impressed with the performance and this would be the only bullet recovered as the others had passed threw.

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At lunch time Ben whipped up the fresh Red Hartebeest liver which was fantastic. In the afternoon we set out for the Kudu we had seen earlier that morning and created a plan once they were spotted. We set our tracker out to push them from the hill they were on and set up an ambush for when they went into the valley they had ran through that morning while we would slowly work our way to an adjacent hillside. This plan was perfect or so we thought. The tracker did a too perfect job and as we were looking in the valley I heard something coming from our left. It was the cow Kudus with their calves followed by our big boy. We were quickly spotted when they got within 80yds and they took off running into the valley we had hoped they would have been passing through. Now fully spooked and moving at warp speed we had no chance at a clean shot. This was the end of day 4. Back to camp for dinner we went.

Hunting Day 5: June 16, 2024

We are half way through our hunt and the morning hunt was called off due to the dense mist in the area that would prevent our ability to spot the Kudu or anything else for that matter. We took off around noon after having an early lunch to see if we could find a good target trophy but none were present that were on my list. So we were skunked this day.
 
Hunting Day 6: June 17, 2024

The decision was made to do a short travel to the mountains for my Black Wildebeest and Zebra this day. We set out at 6:00am to get to the property we would be hunting that was roughly 45 minutes away. Upon entry to this property we had to have our boots sprayed along with the Bakkie tires for Foot and Mouth Disease prevention as there were several cattle pastures in this area. The terrain was rolling slopes with some pretty open areas that had been graze by the live stock. As we were slowly driving to the area Ben wanted us to focus on we ended up seeing some Zebra and Blue Wildebeest along the hillside. Lucky for us there was a nice Zebra in the pod and we followed them to the next hillside and stoped the Bakkie behind some cover and exited to see if we could make something happen. Ben picked out a beautiful Zebra and ranged it at 180-190yds. I was on the sticks and they were moving up hill away from us. Once I confirmed I was on the right Zebra they were approximately 3/4 of the way up the hill and it was slightly quartered away. I found the chevron on the shoulder and was presented with a clean shot as the Zebra do not readily cooperate with staying separated. I let the .338 Win Mag eat and down went the Zebra. We had our first target on the ground by 8:20am and in the Bakkie in short order.

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With the success we had experienced in the morning we were feeling great with the time left to focus on the Black Wildebeest in the area and would have 2 days to find the perfect Kudu. After we were loaded we found some Black Wildebeest off in the distance. Ben knowing the property well drove us slowly along the two track and it was getting relatively thick as far as cover goes. He parked the Bakkie and we proceeded to make a stalk to a waterhole. We had cattle following us for a short time and to be honest I thought they would get us busted. They had not and we had a good position in the thick stuff that allowed us to over look this waterhole. There were cattle along the back side, several herds of Black Wildebeest, some Gemsbok, and if memory serves me correct a herd of Bushbuck. It was a target rich environment however with so much going on and so many animals patience was going to rule the day. As Ben was working on finding the best bull in the groups of Black Wildebeest the cattle that had followed us earlier had moved in to the area. This was going to get complicated quick.

After what seemed like hours, maybe it was, Ben put me on the sticks. We had our target but these clowns like to clown around a lot so it was still a waiting game for a shot. As I was looking through my scope I was given the range of 257 yds. I dialed it up. We conversed about which one I was to take if I could get a shot due to the other clowns moving around. Once a young Wildebeest cleared my intended target and I was able to confirm I had a clean shot that would not hit a cow in the back ground I was able to shoot. The shot was down hill quartering towards us slightly and was going to be blocked by a bush as he continued to move. I squeezed the trigger and we heard the thud. He was hit and ran off. We let things settle down and most of the animals stayed in the area however our target had disappeared. We looked for blood after about an hour or more and did not find anything. Lisa was able to show the hit on the camera and we determined it was a little a far back. We spent the next several hours, with a lunch break in between, looking in the thick stuff for any sign of the animal or blood to no avail. This animal was lost and it was completely my fault. There was plenty of time to wait for a better shot and a lesson was quickly learned. I should have held off. I accepted the out come but did not let it crush my spirits and continued to focus on the rest of the hunt.
 
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Great report. Looking forward to the rest. Glad you made the trip and sounds like a great time was had. Congrats on the fine animals. Thanks for taking the time to share your adventure.
 
Hunting Day 7: June 18, 2024

This morning a decision was made to hunt near the old lodge property. We got there just as the sun began to shine on the hillsides. From a high vantage point we were seeing lots of game. As Ben was glassing for our Kudu the hills came to life and emerged some Kudu. There were a few cows with some younger bulls and then Ben found our target bull. We stayed watching as the browsed the hillside and we watched as a herd of bushbuck were coming in from the right. The Kudu were not in a great spot for a stalk so we kept watching them.As they kept moving to what would eventually be a good position for us the Bushbuck moved in and off the Kudu went like a freight train. When this happened the big bull decided to follow the bushbuck out of range and to a worse position for us. We decided to move along and see if we could find another bull, however Ben was really excited about this bull. When your PH is excited you know it is going to be a good trophy. We did see some more Kudu, mainly cows and some smaller bulls. So we decided to head back for lunch after our efforts were not fruitful.

After lunch we headed to a different section of the property at the main lodge. We saw some Aardwolf on our travels and Ben explained that it is a very rare sight. These creatures are neat when you watch how the behave in the wild. Eventually Ben glassed some Kudu in the distance approximately 1800yds away so we continued on in the Bakkie until we got to about 1100yds. Ben wanted to get closer to confirm if the bigger bull was one we would want and we decided to approach via a stalk as the Bakkie would have for sure spooked them. We successfully went about our stalk until we got to about 200yds out. Ben glassed as they had decided to lay down as we were making our stalk. As they bull got up and provided Ben with a good view of his horns it was decided that he was not the one. A successful 850 plus yard stalk was ended and the sun was setting. Tomorrow would be another day, my last day...

Hunting day 8: June 19, 2024 My last chance....

We headed out this morning to the same property we started on the day before as Ben really wanted to get me on the Kudu bull we had seen the day before. We glassed the same hillside and saw some cows and small bulls but not our target. We continued on to another valley and glassed for a little bit before we found him. Fantastic! However, where he was would not make for an easy stalk. We continue to watch and time was ticking away. We must have watch him for an hour and a half and we could see some blesbok that would prevent our stalk attempt even further. This was going to be a challenge to make a move on this bull. He had a big advantage with all the eyes in his heard and now the blesbok. Ben continued to debate what we would do and decided to drive away and drop Marvin the tracker off wo keep and eye on the bull while we slowly drove to a different spot to make our stalk.

We began our stalk along the valley staying near the top but low enough not to silhouette ourselves. It was a slow but steady approach with Ben stopping every 50 yds or sow to glass. As we got closer Ben was stopping more frequently and the bull was to our left and inside of 200yds. The sticks went down and I was on them and there he was the bull Kudu of bull Kudu. My shot would have to be quick as he was moving into cover. I got on him and just as I squeezed the trigger he began to get behind a bush. The shot went off as he was slightly quartering away and we heard the thud of the bullet hitting this massive bull.

The bull dropped instantly and I stayed on the sticks. We did not hear a thing and nor did we see any movement. Could it be that we got him down right there? We moved along about 50 yds and Ben decided to leave me with the sticks while he would get some elevation to confirm that the bull had not moved on. I was instructed if he was seen to shoot him again. It was quiet and no movement was seen. Ben came back down to Lisa and I and then it happened. The bull got up and was on the run up the hillside. The sticks went up quickly however not perfectly as it took me a bit to find the bull in my scope, it felt like a minute as Ben was commanding me to shoot several times but it was mere seconds. I let a shot fly and it went over his back. I did not know the range when I took this shot and I was giving him a fair bit of lead. The bull turned around and continued in the direction that we had began our stalk. We moved up hill and toward the Bakkie when Marvin let us know he was heading up the hill from us. Ben glassed and ranged him. He set the sticks up and let me know this was going to be a long shot, a very long shot. I went on the sticks and the wounded bull was working along the hillside. He was 600yds away and still moving. I had adjusted my dial accordingly and had a broad side opportunity so I took the shot. It went over the bulls back. I chambered another and took another shot giving him some lead... too much lead as the bullet was low buy several yards in front of the bull. I was out of ammo in the gun and the bull hurried over the hillside. I wished I would have connected on any one of the follow up shots as it was determined the bull was wounded high shoulder. He must have been stepping down when I took the first shot and it stunned him greatly.

Marvin kept an eye out as the bull jumped a cattle fence a couple of hillsides away. We went to this location and found blood. Ben was shocked at the amount of blood given where he thought the shot hit. We put Tslu, our hound, to work with our trackers. we could not let her off leash as we were near some hounds with a treed caracal in an adjacent valley in the direction our Kudu had went to. We tracked the blood for a few hours before Nick arrived with two more dogs to assist with the tracking. Poor Tslu is not a young pup but she kept working with the trackers Marvin and Rasta. She even bayed the Kudu at one point and we had arrived and the bull took off the two track just in front of us as I had chambered a round after exiting the Bakkie. Nick was kind enough to bring us a quickly packed lunch as we had our work cut out for us tracking.

As the hours went by Nick, Lisa, and I took the two Bakkies to the hillside while Ben, Rasta, Marvin and the three dogs went to work pushing the hillsides. The hours went by and the bull was not seen. We called it off as it was getting dark. My last day had ended and another trophy was lost. When it was called off you could see the disappointment in Nick's eyes when he let me know it was done. I simply replied to him that this is hunting not shooting and it was fully another error on my part that led to how the day ended. He had a respectful gaze and we shook hands and collected everyone else to head back to camp for what would be the last fantastic dinner in Africa.
 
Conclusion:

This trip was absolutely amazing and a learning experience. Not everything went well and it was fully my fault for the lost game. I had all the right tools and an excellent PH. They got me on every animal on my list and we even saw others. At one point I was asked more than once while we were glassing a hillside if I was sure I did not want a Warthog because we were looking at a monster of one while looking for Kudu. We saw so many animals that I can confidently say that all the areas and properties I had hunted are well managed.

The food was amazing and you would only starve by choice. There was always more than enough for everyone in camp. The accommodations are better than what was promised in my humble opinion. The laundry service and daily room cleaning did not go unnoticed and was greatly appreciated after the long days of hunting. The atmosphere would be perfect for a family trip as well. I would definitely consider bring along an observer next time, especially to help me remember all that we did and saw.

I had lost approximately 37lbs. prior to the trip and would say I am glad I did. Ben kept it physically challenging but never more than I could handle and I am sure he would have changed things up a bit had he thought I could not do it when it came to our stalks/hikes. While there I gained 8lbs. even though I walked over 53 miles during my hunt, maybe it is muscle growth in my legs?

I will eventually share more photos as Lisa did an excellent job capturing the experience and she is busy working on editing the video that I have allowed Nick to share on his YouTube page and anywhere else he would like to use to market his business.

@Nick BOWKER HUNTING SOUTH AFRICA is 6/5 stars in my book and I do not say this lightly. I can not express my gratitude to the entire operation and to all the people I met and consider friends on this magnificent adventure.
 
A excellent, blow by blow account of what sounds like a great hunt. Sorry you lost a couple of animalls, especially the kudu, Now you have a reason to go back, not that you really need one.
It was a great time and thanks for reading it. The lost animals definitely sucked but I own it. My limits were tested and my ability was challenged. Hindsight is 20/20 and I am looking forward to the return to Africa.
 
Really enjoyed reading about your first Africa hunt, congrats on the fine animals you took. Thanks for sharing your trip and photos. Hopefully you're making arrangements for your second African trip.
 
Really enjoyed reading about your first Africa hunt, congrats on the fine animals you took. Thanks for sharing your trip and photos. Hopefully you're making arrangements for your second African trip.
Trogon, thank you for reading it. You were mentioned several times in the Bakkie by Ben. The second trip is being heavily thought about and the saving of my pennies begins again. I am hoping for 2026 however my son will be graduating from high school so I might have to adjust my plans. Either way I plan on going back. I still need that Kudu and Black Wildebeest.
 
A really well written report. I think you made a good choice choosing eastern cape for a first safari. It gives a good hunting experience compared to some other regions. Tough loss on the kudu though, hopefully they can find the horns in a few days at least.

I think I’ve been hunting the wrong places though if I read your report right. Bushbuck are very shy animals. They don’t occur in herds usually just an animal or two in the open for a very short time before disappearing again.
 

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