SOUTH AFRICA: Gizmo Family's African Safari Hunt

gizmo

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Namibia-Khomas Highlands, Romania, South Africa- Kalahari , Eastern Cape, USA, Fished Brazil, Mexico, USA
I met my PH in August of 2014 at the TTHA show in Ft. Worth TX. I had already booked another safari through Cabela’s tags prior to the show. After spending four days with Andri Fox of Andri Fox Safaris I had cancelled my hunt through Cabela’s and rebooked with Andri. Our booths at the show were next to each other and as the show progressed we became friends. I knew that he was the guy I wanted to go with and I will be forever grateful for his friendship and the trip of a lifetime he made for my family and me.

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I had almost a year to prepare for the trip and we had decided on Lion, Cape buffalo, and a mixed bag of plains game. This would not have been possible had it not been for Andri. He was able to provide this hunt for my entire family and saved me thousands of dollars in the process. The original hunt was for Cape buffalo and PG, Andri was not only able to beat Cabela’s pricing but add a male lion in the process. Over the course of the next year I purchased two DG rifles, a Ruger guide gun in 416 Ruger and a CZ 550 in 375 H&H. I ultimately chose the 416 for the hunt. Hundreds of rounds down range, reading everything I could get my hands on about DG hunting, and many DG videos later it was time to get on the plane.

I used Jennifer Topaj with Cabela’s travel service to book our flights and I will say, despite vowing never to book a hunt through Cabela’s again, I will use Jennifer again. She was super easy to deal with and did a very very good job. We would drive the 5 ½ hours to DFW, overnight with my Dad in Ft. Worth before flying from DFW to Dulles and on to Africa. The flight was long but I was able to pass the time and sleep some so it went relatively quickly. I had also hired @riflepermits.com who made clearing my rifles a breeze. They had already gotten my pre-approved rifle permits and it took about 15 minutes to clear my rifles. Henry and his staff did an excellent job and I would highly recommend them. One of their reps met us as soon as we were off the plane, cleared us through customs, and we had rifles in hand and out the door in no time. I will use them for all future trips into SA, another great thing about using them is you skip all the lines and get VIP treatment. It really is worth the nominal fee they charge and I would gladly pay twice what they charge for their service.

Andri and Pierre Rogers of Igala productions were waiting for us as soon as we cleared customs. I had hired Igala to film our safari and again this is another excellent service I would highly recommend using. Pierre really was a wonderful man and made the trip even more enjoyable for us. After the handshakes and hugs we were off to African Sky for a much needed beer and rest. African Sky is a wonderful place and the food was excellent. I had the lamb chops which were out of this world. After dinner we sat around the fire and threw back some cold beers while visiting. We took a shower and off to bed only to wake up at 3 a.m. bright eyed and bushy tailed. My wife and I went back out to the fire and had a long visit with the security man from African Sky. He was from Zimbabwe and had moved to SA to look for work after losing his job in Zim. I feel terrible because I cannot remember his name but he was very nice and very enjoyable to visit with. Andri and Pierre woke up around 530 or so and we headed out. The original plan was to travel to Hartsview safari’s, hunt buffalo for a day and transfer to the Kalahari to hunt lion. After the lion hunt was finished we would go back to Hartsview finish the buffalo hunt then transfer to the Eastern Cape and hunt PG at Andri’s place. It was a roughly 5 hour drive to Hartsview and we wasted no time when we arrived. We sighted in rifles and struck out after buff.
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We saw some kudu cows, zebra, and a very nice waterbuck on the way in. Hartsview is very hilly and very thick cover. This made for very enjoyable hunting. The staff was very kind and fun to hunt with. We tracked buff for four hours. It was here that I saw my very first Cape buffalo. I was struck breathless by their beauty and magnificence. While I had read so much about hunting them I had no idea how difficult it really was to hunt them in thick cover. We bumped them three times but never got a shot. I would venture a guess and say we walked at least 10 miles tracking them. Though no shot opportunities presented themselves I enjoyed every second of it.
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Buffalo are extremely smart and to my amazement very flighty. A simple twig snapping or shift in the wind will send them off in a dead run which will last for miles. The feeling of stalking them in thick cover, the barn yard smells when close, and the sounds of the herd milling about is a sensory overload. No book can truly describe what that feels like. I am getting chill bumps while writing this as I remember the sights, sounds, and smells of it all. The rocky terrain would make one like me believe it impossible to track there but the trackers are simply amazing. I would be shocked many times at their skill and ability during the course of this trip. This tracking ability that has been passed down through the generations is incredible. They can pull sign out of the air and are right every time. Their skill and ability is unmatched by anything I have ever seen and I would venture a guess that no other people in the world would even come close to their skill level. We went back to the lodge and had a wonderful dinner before bed.

5:30 a.m. wake up and another 5 hour drive to the Kalahari. I wanted to hunt as much of SA as possible on this trip and Andri was very accommodating with this. I also wished to do ground transfers for the entire trip, the scenery was breath taking. We arrived in the Kalahari camp just about lunchtime and had a great meal. I do not know what the name of the ranch was but I fell in love with it as soon as we arrived. The Kalahari is the quintessential Africa and was even better than what I have dreamed of for so many years. After unloading the van I met what would become a new friend and our Kalahari mascot Fred. I walked out of our cabin to see a Blesbok standing about 10 feet in front of the main lodge. My family and I were amazed one would come so close to camp. He saw us and started walking over to us. This was no ordinary Blesbok, I noticed something odd about him. It appeared he had odd growths on the tips of his horns, as he got closer I realized it was tennis balls taped onto his horn tips. We had a good chuckle and he walked up and started browsing on a bush about five feet in front of us!
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I decided to go for broke and see how gentle he was. To my amazement he quite enjoyed attention and was happy to be petted. I dubbed him Fred, why I don’t know, he just looked like a Fred to me and it stuck. By the time we left even the camp staff was calling him Fred. Fred provided many laughs throughout our time there. He would sit in the boma around the camp fire with us and really enjoyed rum and coke which made him all right in my book! That being said a Blesbok with a hangover can be quite a cranky critter. Fred was not only fond of rum and coke but also enjoyed Amsted beer, chips, and bread. I spent my entire trip trying to figure out how to smuggle a live Blesbok back to Texas in a suitcase. Fred showed to be quite cantankerous which greatly amused me though he did get me pretty good a couple of times and I was very grateful for the tennis balls on his horn tips. Back to the lion hunt…. After a lunch we loaded into the bakkie and off to find lion tracks.
More to come.......
 
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So that is Fred!!!! LOL
 
Good story so far Gizmo! Can't wait to hear how the Guide Gun barked!
 
Looking forward to the rest . . . !
 
NICE STORY WITH PICTURES
 
Erik,

Great start. Looking forward to the rest of the report.

Don't tell me your first African animal is going to be a lion.:eek::D
 
Looking forward to more!

Already sounds like this place is in your blood!
 
I have played this hunt over in my mind many times, it is impossible to describe how truly awesome and humbling it is to hunt lions but I will try. We drove for miles looking for track, while we saw many tracks they were all at least a few days old. There was an abundance of plains game and I could feel when we would get into an area with lions. I don’t know how to describe it but the hair will stand up on the back of your neck and you will get chill bumps. The feeling is confirmed when all of the sudden no plains game is to be found anywhere and the silence is defining. They are there and you know it. Visual confirmation is not needed, it’s some type of instinctual mechanism built into us from thousands of years of being on the menu for lions. After driving for many many miles the bakkie stopped and I could tell from the excitement on the trackers voices something was different. Fresh lion track. Andri and Cabous, my ph’s, showed me the track. It looked like any other track we had seen but I was told it was only a few hours old.
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Again I have no idea how one can tell the difference between old and new tracks in sand but the trackers could do this and more. I’m pretty sure they could tell you what his favorite color is by looking at track. We had seen a lot of track up to this point and I could however tell the difference between the lion and lioness tracks. Even to my untrained eye the male’s track ifs significantly larger than the females. Both of which were present. Looking at the track it dawned on me, there is a big ass lion on the other end of that track and I am going to sneak around lion, leopard, and buffalo infested cover in order to try and kill him honorably on his terms on foot. This was the first, “what the hell am I doing here” thought I had of the trip. It wouldn’t be the last. I was exhilarated, the combination of excitement and fear was overwhelming. I had never felt so alive. My whole life I had dreamed of this moment. Words cannot describe this. The track crossed the road and went into thick cover. Thick doesn’t really do it justice, there is ZERO visibility in that stuff. It’s a tangle of acacia, hook thorn, and a million other bushes that will swallow you whole. If one manages to survive the paper shredder of cover there is still lions in there to contend with. While this was the freshest track we had seen it wasn’t fresh enough to follow so back on the bakkie to look for more track. Stay of execution, whew. Dangerous game hunting is hours and hours of looking for track to find track so you can go look for more track in the hopes of following track. This is a good thing though, it helps one to deal with the anxiety and get your “game face” on. It is hours of business as usual and then it gets real, very real. All of your senses go into overdrive and your heart is pounding out of your chest. Calm comes over you and you focus at the job at hand. You can feel the sweat trickle down your brow and your palms are sweaty. Your hands are clutched on the rifle and the checkering of the stock helps to keep your grip. As you follow track your head is on a swivel and it feels like any moment he is going to come for you. At this point you haven’t even seen the lion yet.

I had given up on seeing a lion, we were heading back to the lodge and it was starting to get late in the evening. My thoughts were of tomorrows hunt and we were talking about all the amazing animals we had seen and the size of the lion track we had found. Then it happened, the bakkie stops and everyone is pointing to my left. I looked up and about 300 yards down the cross road laying in the road bed was a male lion. For those of you who were like me and had never seen a real lion outside of the zoo I can tell you they are absolutely enormous. I think my jaw bounced of the bed of the bakkie twice. It almost didn’t seem real, there down the road was a lion lounging around, watching us. I couldn’t figure out if he was doing so out of curiosity or trying to decide what side dishes that would pair well with fillet o Gizmo. Andri handed me his binoculars and I glassed him. He was massive in the body and had a hair doo that would make an 80’s pop singer blush. This cat was more than I ever imagined, strangely enough my thought at this time was that this couldn’t be my lion. There sat a huge mature fully maned lion, Andri had told me we were going to only hunt big mature males but I was stunned. This cat far surpassed what I had envisioned I would have the opportunity to hunt. I gave the glasses back to Andri, who by now had already had his rifle out. Cabous came around the truck with rifle in hand as well. “Let’s go”, Andri said. “You want me to do what?”, I thought to myself. Well this is what I signed up for so off the truck I went rifle in hand. We walked down the road directly at him. Once we cut the distance in half he stood up. Remember that calm feeling I talked about, well it was gone. My heart was in my throat and the pucker factor was off the scale. As we continued to advance he stood there looking at us, sizing us up. What felt like about ten years passed and he calmly turned around and gracefully walked off into the bush. I swear I thought I saw him smile and he trotted off as if to say, “you want me, well come and get me”. It was then that it dawned on me that I had to go into that tangled mess after him. As if that wasn’t nerve wracking enough, we hadn’t seen his girlfriend who was no doubt close by. Their tracks had been seen together most of the day. This was the second, “what the hell am I doing” moment I had. As we got up to the spot he had been laying one of the trackers locked up the brakes and pointed. There he was, right on the edge of the brush. As soon as he was there, he was gone. In a flash he melted into brush. At that moment I had never wanted anything so bad in my life. This was the most excited and nervous I have ever been. Into the bush after him we went. Cabous was in the lead behind the tracker, Andri behind him followed by me, and then Pierre armed only with a video camera. The visibility was literally about 5 feet if you’re lucky. I knew that if he wanted he would be on us before we could blink. At one point he stood a few feet in front of us taunting me, his head sticking out from behind a bush with the sun silhouetting him. He curled his lips and made a guttural sound that while very quiet cut into my soul. Anyone who has cats knows that half meow a cat will do. It was kind of like that but sounded like a tyrannosaurus rex making it. In a flash he was gone. Above the bush I could see the sun and the further we followed the track the more the sun began to get behind us. This cat was circling around behind us. The reality of that hit me like a ton of bricks. We just became the hunted and there was no doubt what so ever about it. I was apparently the last one to figure this out and it was right after this that the conga line stopped and a quick pow wow of sorts was had. A conversation, of which I understood nothing as everyone was speaking Afrikaans, was had. Then I was told he was circling around behind us and we needed to do something different in order to stay off the dinner menu. Sometimes being right about something isn’t always a good thing and as the saying goes, ignorance is bliss.
 
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Great stuff Erik, keep it coming.
 
I like it I love I want some more of it! Keep the story coming Gizmo! My hair is standing up on my neck! That 416 Ruger bullet looks small next to the tracks!
 
As always, keep it coming!
It is fun to relive everything as you write the tale.

and remember you paid to do this.
 
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Very good job of descriptive writing. Enjoy your style.
 
I have to compliment you on your writing abilities. I can't wait to hear more.
 
After the pow wow produced a game plan we changed directions to cut new track. At the time I didn’t know it but he had circled around all the way and came out back on the road about 10 feet in front of the bakkie where my wife, kids, and two other trackers were sitting. I will guesstimate that he had made a circle about a mile to mile and a half in size. My wife told me she was sitting with the kids on the high rack when my son whispered, “Mom,Mom”. In typical mother fashion my wife replied, “huh” without ever looking up from her candy crush battle raging on her phone. After some further poking in the arm she looked up to see my lion standing in the road not ten feet in front of the bakkie. Mrs. Gizmo and the kids sat starring eye to eye with a lion, she told me they were afraid to breathe much less move. After what she described as an eternity he trotted off back in the bush in pursuit of us. An indeed amazing experience for them. Mrs. Gizmo later told me that she was pretty convinced after that that I was going to end up as cat poo by the end of it. This all happened about the time we had stopped to come up with a new game plan and truth be told I hadn’t believed that me ending up as cat crap wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility. Eventually we cut his track and the stalk was back on. I’ll be damned if he didn’t circle around again and try and come in behind us once more. Again the trackers figured it out cut his tracks and we were back on him in no time. The tracks led into some thorn from hell. I didn’t think it was possible for the brush to get any thicker but it did. We were literally having to take a step and untangle ourselves just to get tangled again and start all over again. It was a cool evening, maybe 45 or 50 degrees and I had completely sweat through my hat and my shirt. I have no idea how long it took to get out of that tangle but it was forever. We were on pens and needles the entire time. Fortunately it opened back up to the normal crap visibility which gave a little relief on the nerves. At least we could move and react if something furry with big teeth popped out of the next bush to say hi. From here the tracks started to zig zag from right to left and cross back over themselves. This cat was smart and was always trying to get the angle on us. Several times we would see him through an opening in front of us. He would lead us one way only to pop out from the opposite direction. This cat wanted us as bad as I wanted him and it was fastley becoming very personal. I hadn’t even done anything to him yet and he was already wanting to eat me. Quite bad manners if you ask me. We covered a lot of ground and I can only guess that it was several miles though it felt like several hundred. Up ahead and slightly to our left about 200 yards was a tree sticking up above the brush. Tree may be a bit of an over statement as it was more like a really big bush. Out of the corner of my eye I saw something very large ease up into it. It didn’t really register in my mind at first. I thought, “holy smokes, something really big just went up that tree”. Never in a million years would I have ever imagined lion going up a tree much less a lion that big going up a tree that small. What had happened was he had gone past that tree, looped back around to it, then climbed up it. He was waiting to pounce down and bring 600 lbs of bad news on us as we tracked by it. The kink in his plan was that I don’t think he intended on us seeing him sneak up in the tree. Then next thing I knew Andri had me by my shoulder and we were at a cautious half trot toward the tree. We got to about 20 yards and the reality of the situation sunk in when I saw his tail hanging down under the branches. Now, I had visualized this hunt in my mind several million times over the course of the last year. I tried to imagine every situation that could possibly happen and how I would react to it. Never, ever, did I dream I would have a lion in a tree. It was almost comical and I chuckled a little. The chuckling soon ended when he realized his plan hadn’t worked and we caught him red handed. He let out some growls and roars that would blow a fellas hair off. No sound in the entire universe can scare the shit out of you half as much as that will. Mrs. Gizmo and the kids told me after it was over that they would have sworn that lion was back hiding in the bush a few feet from them and they were at least a mile and a half away! I however was about all of 60 feet away doing my dead level best not to mess my britches. That was the coolest thing I have ever experienced. That feeling right there is worth the price of admission. I absolutely loved every second of it!!!! So now we knew where he was and he definitely knew where we were. Problem was aside from his tail, we couldn’t see him. He was obviously there and he was making damn sure we knew he was there. He was highly upset at the situation and I think shooting him in the tail would have probably greatly increased his sour mood. Andri grabbed my shoulder again and we shifted to the right. This helped a little. I could see his muzzle now. I could see his tongue as he panted and his teeth as he screamed profanities in lionese at us. Cabous had put the sticks up and I was on the rifle. I turned the scope up to two power to try and see something resembling a shoulder. Meanwhile Andri is helping me pick the lion apart from the tree. I listened to his instructions and there I saw it. Though a hole in the branches the size of a dessert plate I saw his front left shoulder. Andri told me if I was sure of the shot to take it. The branch he was on didn’t look like it would hold me and it was cracking under his enormous weight. I knew if I didn’t do something and do it soon the branch would break and we would have a whole lot of pissed off kitty cat jumping down our throat. I clicked the safety of and eased on the trigger. The shot broke and surprised the hell out me. He let out and enormous growl and jumped straight up still holding onto the branch. To my surprise he was still in the tree! Andri was yelling at me to reload but I was already doing it. The second the bolt close I got another site picture and fired again. A millisecond of a millisecond later he came out of that tree and hit the ground. I had reloaded before he was on his feet. He was making the most ungodly noise I’ve ever heard and was spinning in a counter clockwise circle biting at his left shoulder. As he spun around I caught his right shoulder and fired again. The shot took him off his feet and he wasn’t so quick to get up this time but get up he did. I reloaded the rifle and shot him square in the chest. He toppled over again and to my amazement got back up despite two broken front shoulders. I reloaded and hit him again, again he got up this time going around a bush and trying to charge. As he went around the bush I reloaded but the gun jammed. The world stopped, thirteen years of Police training in firearm malfunction drills kicked in and I had cleared the jam and was back in the fight before he made it around the bush. That was by far the longest half of a second in history. He was plowing dirt with his front end trying to come. I got another sight picture and fired rolling him. He was down. I took a few steps forward and Andri told me to put an insurance shot in him. He was on his left side with his head facing away from me. I put the cross hairs in between and slightly behind his front legs. Andri was telling me, “easy on the trigger”. I squeezed and set another bullet through his chest. He was stone dead. I reloaded again and was ready but he was finished. After a few moments I pulled my rifle off my shoulder and we caught our breath. Andri was patting me on my back and I have him a hug still keeping a careful eye on the lion. It was at this point my nerves started and my hands began to shake. Once the battle started I didn’t have time to be nervous, I was in a fight to the death and had a job to do. Now that the job was done my knees began to knock. Time passed, Cabous went to the left and Andri and I went to the right. I covered Cabous as he approached and tapped him in the eye. He was finished. After more celebratory handshakes and congratulations I carefully went up and tapped him on the eye with my rifle to make double sure but nothing, it was over. I kneeled down and placed my left hand on his mane just below his left ear. Emotion overwhelmed me. A lifetime of dreaming and prayers filled me and I’m not too proud to admit I teared up a bit. The family showed up shortly and we all hugged. Next to the birth of my children it was the single best experience of my life. No words can describe the feeling. Everyone gave me some time with my lion which I was grateful for. Oddly enough lions smell a bit like a wet dog. Again I am forever in Andri’s debt, without him this would have never been possible. I will remember this day for all my years. I had my lion, and as Capstick once said I “earned him the hard way” in thick bush on foot. The magnificence of lions is amazing and I feel truly blessed to have experienced this most special hunt.

Now if my figures are correct that lion took a total of roughly 37,650 foot lbs of energy. Seven shots two of which were pass throughs. Every single shot was a killing shot yet he still was able to get back up after each one. I knew lions were tough but this seemed almost impossible. The reason well, you’ll just have to wait for the explanation in the next series of posts.
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Fantastic report Gizmo, enjoyed reading it. Well done.
 
You earned him for sure!
 
Who's Fred????........oh he's just like one of boyz back home....:D Beer Bottle:
 
Outstanding story and lion!!! I am looking forward to the rest of the hunt and the great writing.
 

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