Yesterday on the way back to the lodge, we saw three cheetah’s along the park boundary. They were reintroduced into the park 6 months back. During our 2015 trip, I regretted not taking the time to visit the park considering the proximity to our location. Seeing how good the trip has gone so far and after discussing with the bride, we decide to visit the park today instead of going hunting. John Henry is more than agreeable to shuttle us around and his oldest daughter joins in also. The morning temps hover around 35 degrees F.
We have a little later than normal breakfast and make the short drive to the park headquarters. There is only one other visitor checking in. They appear to be from New Zealand. As a matter of fact, we see less than 10 vehicles inside the park for the whole day. This area doesn’t get the exposure of Kruger. It’s definitely an underutilized natural resource. The area is supposed to support 75 elephants, but on last census there were over 400. You can see the difference in the habitat destruction from the side that holds elephant and the areas that don’t. The elephant area doesn’t have a tree over 8’ tall and as we drive the road through the park it is littered with downed tree branches and scarred tree trunks. Just more evidence of why responsible game management is needed. As I write this Botswana is considering rescinding its ban on elephant hunting as their herds are decimating the habitat also after years of non-hunting. I’m not sure what the solution will be for this area.
Along our route, we encounter a rhino. It brings us back to the poached rhino we observed from this very park a few days earlier. We run into another vehicle and they give us a report of an elephant further up the road toward the mountain. We head that way but not before we witness multiple impala rams fighting with a jackal. The rams have the upper hand today.
Finally, there he is, a young bull elephant standing in the road. We approach cautiously looking for signs of aggression. It appears relatively safe to pass, but we continue to monitor his mood as we move by. We are able to get by unscathed as he moves off the road 50 yards. I get the rare elephant selfie.
The road to the top of Lookout Mountain is one of the most scenic 20 miles I have driven. The Waterberg Mountains form a bowl here with large open grasslands in the valleys. The game numbers are surprisingly low however- we see a group of kudu cows, zebra, a few impala, a small herd of cape buffalo, monkeys and two klipspringers. Once we get to the top, the GPS registers 6,200 ft in elevation. The drive down doesn’t seem as steep as the drive up
Other park pics
We get back to the lodge around 2:30 and have lunch. It’s one of our favorites from last time- the locals call it “Fat Cake” or Vetkoek in Afrikaans. It’s a fried croissant type roll, sliced open and stuffed with a ground meat mixture. Dang it’s good! I spy the leftover birthday cake and grab another healthy slice. I still have one notch left in my belt before it is bottomed out . We take a short break the reminder of the afternoon in preparation of a long night sit over the bait pile. John Henry checks the trailcam during our afternoon break and sadly informs me there were four honey badgers on the bait at 7 pm last night as we were eating birthday cake.
We’ll be on guard tonight. We get to the stand at 5:30 with 40 minutes of light left before the darkness engulfs us. The moon is rising later and later as the days progress. We can’t see our hands in front of our face once inside the popup stand. I get situated, test my shooting set up, and sit back for a long night. With colder weather, we are suited up as if we are headed to Siberia. It’s as if time stands still in this sensory deprivation capsule we are sitting. As only John Henry can see through the FLIR, I sit with my eyes closed, listening to the African night. I hear every rustle of the wind and leaves, impalas grunting and the occasional unidentified sounds keep me alert. The click of the FLIR going on snaps me back. 10 seconds of anticipation, but no word from John Henry as I dose off again. Another click 10 minutes later followed by a barely audible whisper. With 45 yrs of hunting/shooting, my ears ain’t gonna make that out. I’m not sure if he just whispered sweet nothings in my ear cuz I thought I heard him call me Honey. I lean in toward John Henry to ask for a repeat. Strangely enough my only thought at that second was if I had bad breathe. I get confirmation of what I thought I had heard. John Henry sees a honey badger on the bait already. Now we discover the overhead red light battery has died. Luckily I have brought a small light with a red lens. John Henry gives me the signal, I get on the 22 Hornet, peer through a dark scope as he turns on the light. With good fortune, I am already looking at the right area and immediately pick up the badger. The shot is good, later discovering it was a true heart shot. The badger is down 10 feet from the bait.
Given its only 6:30 we decide to wait to see if anything else comes in. Wouldn’t you know it, the genet makes his appearance 30 minutes later. He is playing the same hide and seek game. In and out, in and out. John Henry gives the signal again. I get ready but when he turns on the light I can’t pick up the genet until it’s running straight away. I take another shot that looks like it might have connected. We go to investigate and see the son-of-a-gun running through the tree tops. Et tu Genet!
We radio to the tracker to pick us up. I had been warned by everyone the smell of a badger is stomach churning at best, up chucking at worse. I have been around an American badger or two and can attest they rival any skunk. I gotta say this one wasn’t too bad. He was a nice size male. Maybe he wasn’t expecting any female companionship tonight and skipped applying his cologne. As Johan and Francios, the two skinners arrive, I hand Francios my leather work gloves. I can see he is appreciative of the offer and I’m sure even more impressed with my gracious offer that he can keep them afterwards. A great ending- we didn’t sit all night and no one was upheaving dinner in the bush.
Dinner: baked chicken, rice, veggies, homemade bread (oh yeah!). Dessert- we heated the birthday cake served with ice-cream and chocolate sauce. It was quite possibly better than yesterday. I toast the “Crazy One” with a brandy and coke.
The neighbor called and reported seeing a big leopard on the road nearby. Maybe we’ll get a visit at the bait pile before we leave.
Day 9 If loving you is Roan, I don’t wanna be right
Good news last night, the paperwork has been cleared for a roan hunt. Other breaking news, there must have been one helluva an impala showdown outside the villa last night. Several rams were causing quite a disturbance with their grunting and carrying on as they tried asserting dominance over each other in a moon lit standoff. A real gladiator’s battle royale. We start with the usual breakfast- eggs, bacon, toast. It’s warmed up to a balmy 40 degrees. Hopefully the animals will start getting back to normal.
If only hopes were reality. The morning has started slow. We run into the usual cast of characters- impala, zebras, a giraffe or two and even see a jackal that is too fast to present a shot. As the day progresses, we begin checking waterholes for sign. Finally, a fresh roan bull track leading off to the north. My wife remarks that it’s 10 am and no visual of any roan yet. We do see a very nice warthog boar running with a sow and two smaller hogs. Are they called piglets? Other than slower than normal morning observations, it’s a beautiful day to be out. The clouds have backed off for the time being, the sun is shining and it’s not too warm yet. I can think of worse places to be, work comes to mind. John Henry picks up more fresh sign on the road. We are a long way from the area we saw the good roan bull on day one, but not too far from where we had seen him last. We cover another two waterholes in the area, but nothing.
I’m basically lulled to sleep in the warming morning air. The rhythmic jostling of the bakkie is like the motion of an old, solid rocking chair. I could definitely take a nap as the days of travel are compounding my fatigue. Lisa perks to attention and exclaims she sees a roan to our right. We stop and confirm it is a very good bull peering through the bush. His black and white face has given his hiding location away. This bull is too busy exerting a dominance display toward two others we spot nearby to notice us. He appears to be the boss as the other bulls’ acquiesce to his presence.
John Henry and I work our way into position, but he is quartered hard away. I whisper the shot angle is too severe to risk it. The bull continues to walk away from us as we move to our right staying 100 yds to his flank. The bull cuts back to the north now aware of us and stands broadside in a small opening in the bush. The view from the scope detects a lone tree branch is covering his shoulder. I could try and slide one in behind the shoulder, but it would be further back than desired. We have to let him slip away. Making a move into the proceeding block doesn’t produce another sighting. He has worked his magic. After sorting the tracks, we figure out he has doubled back. A little later and we have located him again. Things are in our favor this round. The angle isn’t perfect but it isn’t too bad either. If I can get steady, it will be an acceptable shot. It all falls together rather quickly as the crosshairs settle just above the elbow against his tawny hide as he is keenly aware we are on his back trail and slightly quartered to us in an alert pose. Just enough pressure on the trigger sets events in motion. He bucks at impact. I can see the shot is perfect. Of all the shots I have taken this trip, this one was the one I’m most confident in.
We find the place where he kicked and the tracks head off into the thick stuff. John Henry stays on the track, which is easy for the moment. There are no other tracks this size, running in this direction. 30 yards, 40 yards, 50 yards- no blood. I turn to my wife and express an ever so slight uncertainty about the course of events. As soon as I turn back to the trail, we hear one last gasp ahead. We approach the downed roan cautiously. He is definitely larger in body than I had expected, noticeably larger than the sable. A later search reveals a mature roan weighs 550-675 pounds. I’d have to say, he was at the upper limit of this range. The roan is not as decorated as his celebrity cousin, the sable. Although similar in shape, the roan’s horns are markedly shorter; although his face is splashed in black and white markings, his body doesn’t maintain the full sophisticated dress; his ears are floppier with less dazzle than his counterpart. The blue color worker of the family. In a straight up bar fight, I might have to go with Mr. Roan.
We arrange for a few pics- the tape shows 26 ¼”s with 9 ½” bases. The last minute decision to hunt this roan is one of my better ones.
Did someone say it was lunch time? Chicken tortilla wrap. During my first trip over in 2007, I never saw anything remotely resembling a tortilla. It was the food I missed the most coming from South Texas. This might be the second or third time this trip tortillas have been featured. Globalization at its finest.
During the midday, clouds have rolled back in from the south. Because of the large warthog sighting from this morning we decide to take a break and sit by a waterhole this afternoon. Conditions aren’t good as the cloud cover keeps the temperatures cooler than normal. We do see two sows and a real good boar. Probably a shooter but I have one maybe slightly bigger already. The wife again stayed back this afternoon. Too bad, it would have been perfect for her. We don’t stay too long as we have a date with a genet tonight.
Oh that genet. The only African animal I missed on my previous trips. He was perched atop a termite mound when I dumbfoundedly missed a gimme three years ago. Now this trip I have missed twice, albeit not particularly great opportunities, they were makeable. We are back over the bait pile at 5:30. With the cloud cover this afternoon, it is exceptionally dark tonight. 6 o’clock- nothing; 6:30 the same, 7 o’clock nada.
We have had action every night we have sat here by 6:30. At 7:30 pm I lean toward John Henry and comment we don’t need to kill ourselves sitting here all night waiting on a genet that is obviously smarter than us. We aren’t that far from camp and decide to walk back. We are checking the tree tops as we go. As we get within sight of the compound, John Henry spots a large genet near a seldom used villa where the occasional local hunter will stay. The tom is running along the wall of the lapa and heads up a large tree nearby. We quickly get into position. John Henry spots the cat at the top of the tree. It takes me a minute or two to locate the sneaky bugger but I finally spot the two glowing red saucers that give away his location. Finally we get the upper hand. Some say it’s better to be lucky than good, I can’t disagree. There’ll be no more chicken killing, orange thieving around the camp from this fella.
The poor man’s leopard
Good thing we don’t have far to go for dinner as my stomach signals I’m hungry. Bobotie with impala, salad, veggies and bread. Dessert might be my favorite- Malva Pudding! I do LOVE this stuff. The belt is officially topped out.
There has also been a second Spots sighting. The neighbor has called and advised a big tom leopard was seen going into John Henry’s farm this morning. It’s the second sighting in as many days. Bad news for the local game!
It’s our last day hunting. I actually sleep to 6:15 am this morning. There were no impala fights outside last night. It’s very overcast this morning. Why do I usually experience the “weird” weather while in South Africa? It’s the sort of weather I’d be wishing for back in Texas.
Breakfast: eggs, sausage links, fruit and pancakes, the little bitty kind you can eat a stack of and I do my best to accommodate the cook. We are headed back to Mamba still in search of a large impala, monster kudu or anything else that might pique our interest. As we drive along the boundary, we see a kudu bull with several cows. Although not a full two curls, he does look like he has some age to him. The entourage slides into the cover of the thick bush.
As we pass a park checkpoint on the boundary road, the guards are huddled near a small fire. We continue heading north and slip into the backside of the waterhole. There are blue wildebeest and impala, but no large rams. As we work the mountain sides, we catch a kudu flatfooted at the bottom. He tries to remain motionless, but we have already spotted him. He is caught between trying to make a dash for the steep mountain side or sticking to his hiding place. Good thing for him, he is still a few years short of being the bull we are interested in.
As the morning wears on, we try stalking the river area. The edge along the water is more open, with thicker tangles of bush up on the bank. We spook a bushbuck ewe but nothing much else until a reed choked river produces the grunting noise of a possible hippo. With the reeds well over 10 feet tall, there’s no way we’ll make out what is producing this noise but one thing for sure, it is big. We decide to slip back up the bank to safer ground. There’ll no heroes or victims today.
We head back to the bakkie through a sand flat where I run across these bushveld Cheerios. Across this valley floor, the sand is deeper and courser than what I found in the Kalahari. Good thing we don’t have too far back to the bakkie.
Our return shows a nice place to grill up lunch along the banks of the Mamba River. It flows clear as if thousands of Swarovski crystals float by shimmering on its surface. We also have Swarovskis dangling from our necks, just not the same Swarovskis our wives have around theirs. Maybe I’ll ask my wife for a new Swarovski necklace for Christmas. Lunch: Sausage, braai bread and left over Malva pudding. I unhitch the belt.
It has been cloudy again all morning. Our chances of spotting kudu bulls on the mountain sides are greatly reduced without aid of sunlight. The trees are barely clutching the last of their leaves. In two weeks, the canopy will be bare making it easier to spot the bulls. Just as we pack up from lunch, the sun begins to peek out. The glimmer of sunshine renews our hope and restores our energy on this last afternoon. John Henry pulls the bakkie to a stop and gets out. He summons me over. A relatively fresh drag mark in the sand with leopard tracks. He comments it’s probably a small male with his dinner. The drag marks cross the road and into a thorn thicket. I pass on John Henry’s invitation to crawl through the entanglement to see where it leads us. The leopard is King of the Jungle around these parts.
As we pass by a steep cliff wall face, to our right we hear crashing bush from a fleeing kudu bull shielded from our sight by the wall of impenetrable bushveld closely holding its secrets. We continue on past the cliffs into a large flat. It is the same flat that had been burned during my trip in 2015. The rising red cactus looks more like a scene from Mars than from this earthly world. It’s almost spooky as we drive through a tunnel of it.
The rest of our afternoon turned up the occasional small group of impala but nothing else to write home about (or include in this story . A pass by the waterhole reveals the usual that hang out there but nothing of interest. A baboon sitting atop a tree at 325 yds wasn’t as safe as he thought. We feed him a little medicine. No flat tires this trip. We had four last time. I feel cheated that I don’t get to watch John Henry change a tire.
The afternoon stayed cloudy effectively shielding the kudu from our peering eyes. Somewhere in this Waterberg Mountain range, the king kudu still reigns over his valley. A trailcam pic of a bull from one month before I arrived that came to water at the very place we set up for lunch.
After 4 pm, we climbed up a cliff to take in my final view of the bush. And what a specular view it turned out to be.
Back at the villa before dark, 7 giraffe come to the waterhole.
This evening we sit out by the lapa and firepit. It’s been the first evening that isn’t too windy or that we haven’t been sitting over the bait pile. We take advantage of the outdoor setting. We grill up kabobs and lamb chops served with scalloped potatoes, rolls, salad. Dessert- chocolate cake and ice cream.
It’s time to go home; our time has come to an end. We pack up and head out. A few miles south of Thabazimbi there are pivot irrigation fields growing some serious cotton. Cotton country is where I am from in Texas, except they are dry land farmers back home, dependent on rain. These cotton stalks are 4 to 5 feet high and loaded. Our farmers would be seriously jealous of this crop. I don’t remember seeing cotton here in the past.
Nothing much to report going home except for a little advice, don’t hit Joberg on a Friday afternoon. We almost waited too long, at my request, to get started this morning. The heavy traffic limits us to one hour at Cambanos & Son. It’s a good thing we’ve been here before, so the wife knows which items to stalk. If you can’t get it here, you probably don’t need it.
As always the flight back is 5x more brutal than the one over. We do find a tick on the wife once we arrive State side, but she has made the 15 day post African travel window and appears she will survive.
It’s been a marvelous trip, accomplishing everything we had set out to. We celebrated a few life events, experienced a full adventure, enjoyed the culture and visited with friends, both new and old.
Pictures of literally a truckload of biltong made for the local church at least in part from our take.
On the trip to the airport, the conversation turns to a possible buffalo hunt at the Umbabat near Kruger. John Henry “has a place”. Until next time.
Just another reason to hate Delta. My crate arrived in Atl on Feb 6th and was transported by freight truck to Houston. Some time after landing in Atl Delta lost my paperwork. Everyone had copies of the CITIES and TOPS permits but USFW will only accept the originals. My crate had to go into “govt owned” storage at $11.75 per day while my importer worked to get the original permits reissued in SA. Well today it finally cleared and I was able to pick up. It appears all is here and in good shape. A further inspection will happen soon.
Yes- it was very frustrating. My storage fees were $477 total with little recourse against Delta Thankfully my Importer- Well World Wide out of Houston stayed on it and turned the new permits relatively quickly. If I had been doing my own importing and had to get try and get reissued original permits from SA I would have been really screwed. In this instance the Importer fee was worth it. When I was picking up my crate today the importer mentioned that Delta had lost several batches of paperwork recently and that the importer was told by the SA authorities they would no longer be reissuing permits as it was causing lots of extra work for them. Hopefully no one gets caught in limbo over this issue.
Mule deer and Colorado elk seasons almost done! Hunters driving farm roads, looking for racks, their PH driving them along, I ask that you not pull into my drive. The buck behind me, on the boundary line of the GMU somehow knows. The hunter laughs, I would invite you in to see my Searcy rifles but social distancing prevails, darkness arrives and the buck slides away into secret tree grove...