SOUTH AFRICA: June 2021 Cape Buffalo Hunt With KMG Hunting Safaris

wlambert

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After three years of planning, a year of COVID uncertainty, and six months of truly not knowing if it was going to happen; my daughter and I headed back to the Eastern Cape to hunt with @KMG Hunting Safaris. Much as been written about the COVID testing process and current-state travel logistics so I won't bore you with a lot of details there. I will say that I took four COVID tests across three days using two different pharmacies to insure I had what I needed. I had watched for months as Delta continued to delay the start of their ATL-JNB-CPT-ATL flight plan and eventually my June 6 departure was also cancelled. I happily had @TRAVEL EXPRESS request a refund and book us with Qatar.

Again, much has been written about the flight through DIA/Doha but it was an excellent experience overall, with a few learning opportunities thrown in. I've now traveled to RSA with three different airlines - Delta in 2015 and SAA in 2018. Having now flown Qatar and with a better understanding of what is required - process, paperwork, etc. - I would very possibly choose it again despite the additional ten hours in the air. I flew economy, but would choose business class in the future. I paid extra for exit rows, then a hefty fee for my rifle/ammo cases on my return trip. I'm pretty sure I was creeping up on business class (and free extra bags) at that point. One of those learning opportunities.

We flew from LEX to DFW, then on to JNB with a layover at DIA. The great folks from Henry's @riflepermits.com were there to meet us at JNB, at 4:00 AM local time, to assist with SAPS permits and rechecking to East London. After an additional layover we landed at ELS around noon. If you choose a similar path and travel with firearms in the future pack plenty of patience. Rechecking firearms at DFW and JNB was painfully slow, but may improve as processes (and hopefully staffing levels) get back to normal.

Marius was there at ELS to greet my daughter and I and we headed off to camp. After settling in we drove out to the range to check my rifles. I would be hunting buffalo with my CZ 550 in .416 Rigby and plains game with my Remington 700 in .270 Win. Only minor adjustments were needed with each rifle. My ammo choices were both factory loadings - 400 grain Swift A-frame for the .416 and 130 grain Barnes TSX for the .270. I also brought along some 400 grain Norma solids in .416 just in case they were needed. After sighting in we spent the remainder of the evening glassing the local property for bushbuck to assist one of the other hunters in camp. We spotted a nice one and called to let the PH know but they were too far out to get back to the area before shooting light faded for the day.

Hunting Day 1

I had always assumed we would start the 10-day safari chasing buffalo, but Marius had let me know he wanted to spend the first couple of days on plains game. I was surprised at first, then realized it was probably to allow us to get our legs back under us before the main event. Marius later confirmed that this was his thinking and it was the absolute right call. Along with the buffalo I was targeting duiker, nyala, hartebeest, and jackal; none of which I had hunted before. My daughter had taken a nice kudu with KMG three years earlier but was along, again, to primarily shoot with her camera.

We headed out to hunt duiker at a nearby cattle farm right after breakfast. The first sighting was a ram and ewe together but as we moved in their direction another nicer ram was spotted approximately 100 yards out. We stalked to within fifty and I got on the sticks. The ram was standing in tall grass and likely thought he was well hidden - he was half right. I could only see his head and a bit of his back. Marius warned me not to allow the grass to cause me to shoot high, but rather estimate where the rest of the shoulder would be as the duiker was broadside facing right to left. I took aim at where I felt the left shoulder would be and fired into the grass. The duiker dropped right there. As the trackers were carrying the duiker to the bakkie it shuddered a couple of times so Marius retrieved his handgun and I placed one more round into the vitals. I had my first animal of the safari by 8:20 AM.

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After a visit to the skinning shed, we headed back to camp to rest and have some lunch. We spent the afternoon touring the camp property and scouting new locations for trail cameras. There was an area along a dry riverbed that ran through the valley and Marius wanted to see if there were any suitable spots. We ventured down and concluded the day with a two-hour hike through some beautiful country.

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JOHN GRENZ

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Looking forward to your report. We sure enjoyed sharing camp and the evening meals with you both.
 

thriller

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Looking forward to the rest of the report it’s off to a good start!
 

wlambert

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Looking forward to your report. We sure enjoyed sharing camp and the evening meals with you both.
Likewise John. It was a fantastic week!
 

wlambert

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Hunting Day 2

This day we were after Nyala and left earlier than the day before as we were traveling to a property further away. The property was lightly hunted and known to have some nice bulls. We spent the morning driving to different vantage points and glassing. We saw a total of seven bulls but most were not quite what we were after. There was a lot of diverse game to be seen which my daughter especially enjoyed. As we were winding up the morning and thinking of stopping for lunch we spotted two bulls near the road leading to the property's primary lodge. We did not seem to be a bother to them and one was a monster! Marius gave me the choice, and while it was tempting to take this huge bull and make another early day of it, I chose to pass and keep hunting. I offer no criticism of anyone taking an animal of opportunity like this, especially one that big. It just seemed too easy and Marius later agreed with my decision.

We went to the lodge to eat our boxed lunches and put our feet up for a while. Afterwards we began again and after more glassing we spotted two bulls and began our stalk. It was a long stalk uphill with thick vegetation and a washed out area that somewhat hid our approach. When we arrived at the spot we had picked we could not see either bull. More maneuvering and radioing back and forth with our trackers and we finally moved into position and got on the sticks. Marius ranged us at 120 yards from the better bull and I squeezed off the shot - click. The Barnes TSX had failed to fire. I racked the bolt and sent another. The Nyala dropped. Marius asked me to continue watching through the scope as he thought the shot was high and the bull may get up. After a few minutes we started in.

The second bull was still in the area and kept darting back and forth. I guess I still had Marius' warning in my head so I kept questioning whether it might be the one I shot. A few more steps and Marius was laughing. I had almost stepped on my bull! The shot was indeed high but had hit at a downward angle and out the vitals on the other side. We considered a mercy shot with Marius' handgun but the bull expired shortly after. A great ending to day two.

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After inspecting the misfired round, the primer was well-struck. I still have it and will try it again later just to see if it will fire, but disappointing to have it happen in the first place. Luckily it wasn't costly.
 

PHOENIX PHIL

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Beautiful nyala!
 

cpr0312

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Nice nyala and start to the hunt!
 

Andrew Short

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Beautiful Nyala! Congratulations!!! Looking forward to reading more.
 

Ridgewalker

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Wise decision to get your legs back before going after buffalo.
I will be interested to see what you find out about the cartridge not firing.
 

rinehart0050

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Great nyala! Looking forward to hearing about the rest of the hunt!
 

buck wild

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Nice report so far !
 

Uncle Sauce

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:A Popcorn: Good start so far! Looking forward to more!
 

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Hunting Day 3 (Buffalo Day 1)

In the days leading up to this hunt Marius and I were in regular communication. He had shared we would be hunting a property he had only recently gained access to, and it was huge - 60,000 acres and believed to be occupied by approximately 600 buffalo. He acknowledged it would be a challenging area to cover but was cautiously optimistic that we would be able to take a nice bull. Entering the property we drove through grasses that were head-high and brush so thick we wondered how we would even stalk a buffalo if we found one there. Early in the day we spotted three cows and a lone bull across one of the valleys. After glassing it was determined that the bull was soft and we moved on.

We spent the day driving some of the roughest roads I have ever ridden on looking for tracks and stopping periodically to glass the huge canyons and mountainsides. Late that afternoon the trackers who were spotting from the back of the bakkie saw a bull that crossed the road ahead of us just as we crested a steep spot. There were equally steep and heavily brush-covered hillsides to the left and right and the bull had bounded down to our right and disappeared. We did some quick searching but concluded that even if we managed a shot, recovery in this area would be exceptionally difficult.

We left that evening never having seen the other 596 buffalo but looking forward to taking up the challenge again the next day. Despite the lack of buffalo sightings this property also provided the viewing of a large number of animals/species. The drive back to camp was after dark, and a genet crossed the road in front of us, illuminated in the headlights. It was the first I had seen in the wild.


Hunting Day 4 (Buffalo Day 2)

We returned to the same property and continued our search. Not long after arrival we took a walk to one of the known water holes to see what evidence it might provide. Before we could get to the water hole my daughter, who was walking behind me, tapped me on the shoulder. I turned to see her holding my 1.5-4x Leupold Dangerous Game Scope which had fallen off my rifle. My quick detach rings had detached a little too quickly.

We all just stood there with bewildered looks on our faces. I teased that we could see if the rings really did "return to zero" but Marius rightly insisted that we go somewhere and check. We backtracked, loaded back up in the bakkie and drove to a dry riverbed. We had stopped to pick up part of a warthog skull which our tracker then hung in a bush about fifty yards out. I struggled to differentiate skull from bush and my first shot was a clean miss. We then decided to travel all the way back to our entry point where a target could be set up. During the ride I determined that the release lever on the front ring had become too loose so I borrowed a screwdriver and tightened it down hard. After a couple more shots at a paper target we were pleased in that the scope had held very close to original zero.

The hunt continued after lunchtime. More driving the rough roads and bouncing around in the cab of the bakkie. Towards late afternoon one of the trackers spotted a large track which we began to follow on foot. The tracks led to a dam/water hole that held a huge buffalo bull. The bull was mud-covered; a picture-perfect setting. Marius and I had discussed on arrival day his criteria for a trophy buffalo - a hard boss (we agreed this was non-negotiable), then a nice shape to the horns, then good horn width. As we approached for a better look, Marius was in the lead with me closely behind.

From the edge of the vegetation that surrounded the water hole Marius had a clear view of the headgear, where I could only see the back three-quarters of the bull. Marius described the bull as "a tank" with rock-hard bosses, but with a less than desirable shape to its narrowly spaced horns. We took a few steps back and began our discussion about whether we should take the bull. The shot wouldn't have been more than fifty feet, but Marius wasn't sure we should take it. As Marius put it, "You will probably shoot one buffalo in your lifetime, right?" I confirmed this was likely the case. Marius then made sure he was clear on two points - this wasn't the trophy he wanted for me, and there was no guarantee we would get another chance like it this trip. We discussed how I would feel if we passed on this bull and no other opportunity came along. Of course I would be disappointed not to take one, but neither did I want to take the wrong one. I think his question was "What if we don't get another chance?" to which my daughter quickly replied "We'll come back!" - and I agreed with her strategy. Ultimately, we decided to leave the bull where we found him. He never even knew we were there, much less that we engaged in a conversation that nearly sealed his fate. It was the only buffalo we saw this day.

Marius could have easily convinced me to take the shot and immediately reduced the pressure on himself. I like to shoot monsters as much as the next guy but I don't hunt with a tape measure. The thrill of taking a big, mud-wallowing beast would probably overtake any immediate concern I might have about shape and width. This is where you need a trustworthy PH and the good sense to value his judgement.

Towards the end of our day, I saw one of the highlights of the trip. If you have ever seen two giraffe bulls fighting you know it is quite a sight. In this case, it seemed to be an unfair fight as one bull was much larger than the other. Despite the height difference both bulls were throwing haymakers - swinging their long necks and smashing their heads against each other. As we approached, the two quickly forgot their quarrel and focused all of their attention on us before galloping away.
 

Andrew Short

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Big, mud covered, “tank”….That’s a trophy in anyone’s book. You showed great restraint and I know I couldn’t have done that.
 

wlambert

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Big, mud covered, “tank”….That’s a trophy in anyone’s book. You showed great restraint and I know I couldn’t have done that.
The struggle was real :)
 

BeeMaa

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Wonderful report so far.

The cartridge that didn’t fire, did you weigh it against another cartridge? I’ve seen a cartridge loaded without powder from the factory. Confirmed by weight and eventually pulling the bullet.
 

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