It's been a little over a week since I got back from my first African hunt with KMG Safaris, and I'm still struggling to find adequate words to describe the experience. As many of you probably already know, the flood of thoughts, emotions, and memories that come from a first African hunt defy ready explanation to anyone who has not been there. To start at the beginning, SkunkMonkey14 (aka Chris) and I had been talking, planning, and saving for this hunt for about four years. Both of us work the night shift at different companies, and a phone conversation on a slow night launched the project. AfricaHunting.com was a major resource for us, and we pored over the many threads for advice and hunt reports before deciding to book with KMG Hunting Safaris. Boy, did we get that one right. We arrived in Port Elizabeth on a mercifully short flight on South African Airways, after the long haul on Delta 200 from Atlanta to Johannesburg, and a comfortable night in Afton Safari Lodge (formerly Afton Guest House). We were met by Martin, our PH, and Ollie, our tracker/skinner for the week. Rounding out the crew was Rocky, Martin's dog...my hero, for reasons I'll reveal later. Morning at Afton Safari Lodge Although we tried to use the drive from Port Elizabeth to the lodge to get to know Martin a little better, I'm pretty sure we both spent most of the two hours staring out the window at the amazing country we were in...a behavior we were never really able to shake while we were there. But before we knew it, we were rolling to a stop in front of Mpunzi Lodge, our home for the next week. Mpunzi Lodge We got settled in our room, and headed to the range to check our rifles. Well, my rifles. Delta Air Lines managed to leave Chris's rifle in Atlanta, so he was going to be without until it caught up. (So I guess that technically, "my" rifles were "our" rifles, at least for now.) Now normally, the checking of rifles is not worthy of much coverage, even if they're off and need some adjusting. But there's a curve ball farther down the road, so it is important to note how this process went. I brought two rifles, a Ruger Gunsite Scout Rifle in .308 Winchester, and a Ruger M77 African chambered in .375 Ruger. The scout was topped with a Burris 2-7x scout scope, and the M77 African was carrying a Leupold VX-R 2-7x Illumidot. I planned to use the scout rifle for springbok, bushbuck, and impala, and intended the .375 Ruger for a zebra hunt. At any rate, once at the range, I was happy to find that both rifles shot exactly where they were supposed to, exactly as I had zeroed them at home. Good to go, right? Hold that thought... Right on the money... Then it was back to the lodge to settle in, have a cold beer, and our first (of many) tasty meals in South Africa. Tomorrow, we hunt. After a night of what is apparently typical tossing and turning, we got up to an amazing African sunrise and a tasty breakfast. (I'm already getting concerned that I'm going to gain weight on this safari.) It's Day 1 of our hunt, and today we're out for springbok. Chris's rifle still hasn't arrived, so the plan is to share my scout rifle. On the plus side, he's shot both my rifles before, and both of us brought the Hornady Precision Hunter 178-grain ELD-X load for our .308s. We're in rolling terrain littered with loose rock, acacia thorns, and cactus...I'd equate it to walking on billiard balls laced with concertina wire. But Martin gets us on some springbok in short order, and picks out a good ram. I give Chris the nod for the first shot, and it's a little off, which is uncharacteristic for him. He finishes the wounded ram pretty quickly however, and the first trophy of the hunt is in the bag. Still, he's a little bothered by the unusually bad first shot. We chalk it up to buck fever and drive on. It's my turn. Chris scores a springbok to start the action. After Chris's shot, all the springbok in the area are nervous, so we have to chase a bit before Martin catches us up to a decent ram. I put the scout rifle up on the sticks, settle onto the shoulder, press the trigger...and whiff. Clean miss, over the back! Okay, maybe I've got a little first day jitters and snatched the trigger. But it's still early, and Martin leads the pursuit until we intercept the herd again, and I have my second chance. Bang! Missed...again? I'm getting the feeling that Martin is losing patience, and I don't blame him. I can't really explain the misses. The rifle checked out fine on the range, so it has to be me...right? We break for lunch at the lodge, and then swing back by the range to double check the rifle, just to be sure. Yep. It's right on, exactly where it should be when I take another couple of shots from the bench. So I guess that settles it...I am the problem, and I have got to sort myself out when we head back for another try at a springbok. It takes some more chasing, but Martin eventually gets me lined up on a ram. I push past all the self-doubt and take the shot, and we've got a springbok on the ground. A little back, but the lungs are hit and it's over pretty quickly. Have I finally shaken off the first-day jitters? It would seem so, but let's reserve judgment...the day isn't over yet. My first African animal. It's getting late, so we start back for the lodge, but just a little way down the road, Chris and Martin think they see something on a hillside, so we stop. They're glassing the hill, but I see something on the gravel road, dead ahead. I can't quite make it out, so I tap Martin and ask, "What's that?" "Bushbuck! Get out! Get out! Get out!" I bail out with the scout rifle and get on the sticks...Martin already has them set. The bushbuck is quartering away hard, so I'm lining up a bit back of the shoulder, angling for vitals. I break the shot, and the ram bucks and heads back into the scrub next to the road. Martin and I are both confident that it's hit, but we move up to investigate...and the ram steps back into the road. We set up again, and I shoot again. It's only about 90 yards, so I am confident, but the ram again disappears into the bush. It looks like the ram is following a low fence in the bush along the road, and Martin decides to send Rocky to sniff him out. Within moments, Rocky is engaged with the bushbuck. There is clearly some sort of furball going on, with all kinds of commotion and barking coming from the cover next to the road. We move up, and through the bush I can see the ram and Rocky going at it, with a broadside shot available through the scrub. But Rocky is close, and Martin tells me not to shoot until he can call him off. It's a 10-yard shot, but it takes a minute for Martin to get Rocky to back off. I tell Martin I have a clear shot, Rocky finally disengages, and Martin says "shoot!" I press the trigger and the ram falls. But when Rocky emerges from the brush, we can see he has blood all over him. Is it his, or the bushbuck's? Martin wipes him down and we can see he has a pretty good hole in his hip where the bushbuck has stuck him. Not good. So we hurriedly load the bushbuck in Martin's Landcruiser, and head back to the farm we had just hunted. They have livestock, and veterinary supplies, and Martin wants to get some penicillin into Rocky's wound ASAP. Once Rocky is treated, we head back to the lodge. This day is done. I've already scored two of the animals on my list, but it is bittersweet. A battle-scarred bushbuck. Sleep was a little fitful that night; partly due to the time change, and partly out of concern for a brave little dog. How would Rocky be in the morning? After some breakfast to start Day 2, we found out. He was a little gimpy, but at least so far, he seemed to be on the mend. For now, we're off to another property to look for zebra. I grabbed the .375 Ruger for this one, and Chris now had his rifle, a Mossberg Patriot in .308 Winchester. It didn't take long before Martin got me out in front of a couple of zebra, and set up the sticks at 200 yards. The shot was good, though the zebra did run a bit before collapsing. Martin decided to take the opportunity to let Rocky do some more tracking, both for the training opportunity, and to make sure he hadn't lost his nerve after the fight with the bushbuck. He shouldn't have worried. A quick sniff of some blood spoor, and Rocky was off like a zebra-seeking missile. Despite the slight hitch in his giddyup, Rocky was still more than game...and I had my zebra. The .375 Ruger proved to be great zebra medicine. Perfectly expanded 250-grain Hornady GMX retrieved from the zebra; 246.8 grain retained weight. We went on that day to collect an impala for Chris...a good one, and commence the search for his kudu. The kudu didn't happen, though we did see a few females and non-shooter bulls in the area. The impala would have to be enough to round out the day. Nothing wrong with that impala. Day 3 saw us heading to yet another property, hunting in earnest for a kudu for Chris. I carried the scout rifle that day, but didn't fire a shot as we learned precisely why the kudu is called the "Grey Ghost of Africa." We drove, and walked, and climbed, and glassed all day, until about 2:00 PM, when Martin jammed on the brakes of the Landcruiser and hissed, "Good bull! Get out!" I was on the opposite side of the vehicle, and struggled to get around in time to grab a little video of Chris's 220 yard shot. Good bull. Time for me to hit the sack...we'll finish this up tomorrow.