SOUTH AFRICA: Mountains & Valleys

buck wild

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:)BRICKBURN- remember you asked for it WHOLE story . In my limited time on AH, it appears BB is a Hall of Famer so who am I to argue.


After being away for 6 years I made the decision to go back to Africa come hell or high water this year. My first trip was in 2007 and my second in 2009. The plan had been to go back every couple years, but as can happen, life seemed to get in the way. I became even more determined to make plans and execute in 2014, but again I put if off due to it being my youngest son's last year in high school and football beginning mid-summer. A buddy of mine mentioned an outfitter he had used in the past and I had firsthand knowledge of the quality of the animals he had taken there. Having used the same outfitter during the first two trips, I was interested in seeing some new ground and being exposed to some different places. After speaking on the phone several times with the recommended PH, I decided to pull the trigger, so to speak, on the trip. I couldn’t have made a better decision. John Henry Keyser and his outfit Greatland Safaris were outstanding. Having the right PH/guide can make all the difference in the world. Almost all guides/outfitters “work hard” for you anywhere you go, but when an outfitter knows his stuff and has secured access to quality places, the service is invaluable. Being in a place where I wouldn’t have extensive knowledge about animal quality, the PH would be my most important asset. There were animals I thought were big, that were small and ones I thought were small that were big! A PH/guide can work his tail off for a customer, but hard work doesn’t always mean success. Heck, I can be the hardest working, most personable guide in the country but not produce. These limited, lifetime trips are not the time to be on an average hunt. It’s just too much time, energy and money invested for a camping trip 9,000 miles away. My number one priority was a monster kudu, preferably one 55"+. John Henry had a solid prior track record on big kudu and later his valuable knowledge and skills would result in the payoff between going home and being ecstatic with a 52/53 or pulling off a once in a lifetime hunt.



We leave the U.S. bound for Africa

Thursday July 16, 2015


Yes the flight from the US to South Africa is a torturous beast, but it is what it is. You basically have two options. You can split the trip in half with a day or two layover in a foreign country, say like the Netherlands (KLM flight), which affords the opportunity for a mini-vacation inside the longer trip, or make one long push to maximize the amount of days spent afield. Maybe one day when I’m living the life of luxury, I’ll do the extended travel plan, but for now it’s my priority to get to Africa and spend as many days hunting as possible. After two prior trips I had learned ways to adjust to the long flight times and before I knew it, the Delta 777-200 was making its final descent into Johannesburg (Joberg), South Africa. Six long years later I had arrived again. It was just as I had remembered, the hazy afternoon sun setting over the city as we arrived. Johannesburg is a large, industrialized city with office complexes, shopping malls and all the same amenities as our American cities. Nothing about it suggests Third World country except they burn a significant amount of coal for heating and electricity resulting in a blanket of haze covering the city in late evening. It’s all very eerily as you descend into the faded orange and purple hues magnified by the layer of coal dust and smoke. I cannot remember feeling the level of anticipation for any of my past hunting adventures that I was experiencing at this moment. By definition Safari means “adventure” and it was just beginning.

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buck wild

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Arrival

Friday July 17, 2015


There weren’t as many hunters on the plane as I had remembered in the past. According to the PHs, business has been down the past couple of years. The world economy had slowed, Ebola and anti-hunting sentiment also all accounted for reduced numbers of hunters. Safari Club International actually put out an article earlier this spring showing that Spain was closer to the Ebola breakout than Joberg, but it’s tough to educate folks who choose to be ignorant. More space for me to roam I suppose. I never understood why everyone rushes to get off the plane so that they can stand in the immigration line for 45 minutes. It’s basically a painless process: walk by the thermo scanner to prove you are not sick, produce your passport (you need 2 blank pages or they won’t let you enter), pick up bags from the luggage area and head to the pick up area to meet your PH. We missed seeing John Henry in the mad dash of people from the plane mixing with other folks that were waiting to see their loved ones and friends, but somehow he was able to find the lost Americans standing in the crowd, as we frantically searched for his phone number. After a quick introduction, we loaded up and headed out.

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I have taken guns in the past, but after speaking to John Henry, he offered his guns for use to help reduce the paperwork and processing time. I was glad to take him up on his offer and was not disappointed with the quality of his weapons. If you elect to take your own guns, prepare for 1-2 hours in the airport getting all the necessary paperwork completed. Another reason I had selected this hunt was because it was going to involve mountain hunting, yes mountains and not the flat bushveld (brush for us Texans) most people know Africa for. I didn’t think a bow was going to be a great choice for such a hunt, as I had concerns that I wouldn’t be able to get myself up a mountain much less lugging a bow and associated equipment. Greatland Safaris has a great track record with bow hunters, if that is what you prefer, and I learned shortly before my trip that another hunter I know had a very successful bow hunting trip with the very same outfitter several years prior. Again, very reassuring that I had made the right choice.


The Delta non-stop flight arrives daily at 4:30 p.m. Joberg time, so by the time you get loaded and head out, chances are it’ll be dark before arriving at the “farm” (they don’t call them ranches-go figure). Over the three hour drive to John Henry’s farm we got acquainted we each other. Lisa was along for the trip again and we chatted about politics, hunting and life in general. We arrived to a very comfortable lodge and our own cabana style room and were met by John Henry’s lovely wife, Trish, along with a great meal of BBQ chicken and roasted potatoes. Lisa and Trish hit it off immediately and became great friends over the course of our trip. It seemed they shared a similar interest- shopping and the spa! They both understand the intricacies of being married to husbands consumed with hunting which silently creates a deeper understand of each other even if they don’t realize it. Despite being continents apart, they have both experienced lonely nights while hubby is out on hunting trips and being drug out into the wildness under the guise of a vacation. They have learned to cope with it and I imagine even come to like it on some level. Of course John Henry and I can always get new wives if these don’t work out.

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Here’s the best tip I can offer for those planning a trip - get some sleeping pills! They help with the flight and definitely help with getting adjusted to the 7 hour time difference. There is nothing worse that lying in bed wide awake staring at the ceiling or falling asleep in the middle of the day. With a little help, I was able to get some much needed rest the first night.
 

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buck wild

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more tomorrow ;)
 

enysse

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Nice to see the stories begin!
 

bluey

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good start ,mate
bold statement , about grabbing a new wife , bro .....
your wife definitely doesn't read hunting reports on AH , does she .........;);)
 

BRICKBURN

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:)BRICKBURN- remember you asked for it WHOLE story . In my limited time on AH, it appears BB is a Hall of Famer so who am I to argue.
.................

I'm just crazy for a good story to read.
If you crash the site everyone can blame me. :ROFLMAO:
 

Wheels

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Looking forward to the rest of your report. (y)
 

Royal27

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Yup, keep it coming !
 

CAustin

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We all like good stories!
 

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buck wild

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good start ,mate
bold statement , about grabbing a new wife , bro .....
your wife definitely doesn't read hunting reports on AH , does she .........;);)

I did forget the :) behind the statement but in all honesty my wife is very good natured and understands my sarcarism. It's the only way we are still married :LOL: I know she is the best thing for me and walk a thin line if needed. :D
 

buck wild

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Sorry I'm late in my follow up. I had a taxidermy project to work on when I got home from working all day. So with no further delay.....
 

buck wild

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Day 1 First sunrise of the trip

Saturday July 19, 2015

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Kudu was first on the list and we headed out after an all-American breakfast of scrambled eggs, the meatiest bacon I have ever had and toast with homemade jelly (peach, fig). John Henry kept putting shredded cheese on his toast but I wasn’t feeling South African enough to try it. We would be going to a premiere ranch known for huge kudu, Mamba. The ranch shares its name with one of the world’s deadliest snakes and they are known to frequent the area, but it’s winter here now and hopefully they are all asleep, tucked cozily in their dens. The ranch is 18,000 acres with the Mamba River flowing through it. The flat bushveld is met by the rocky outcroppings of the Waterberg Mountains. Not Rocky Mountain style, more like West Texas, but don’t be fooled as I soon learned they were steep enough to make this coastal flatlander’s lungs burn like napalm. My home sits at 18 ft above sean level and teh steepest incline within 100 miles of me are sand dunes. The mountains ranged in elevation from 1,200-4,500 ft. Like our South Texas brush, everything growing over here has thorns and although we claim to have everything bigger in Texas, these thorns make ours look puny in comparison. During my first trip in 2007, I witnessed a hunter get yanked off the back of the truck driving down the road because a thorn had caught his shirt collar as we drove by. No Texas thorn tree was going to do that to a person.

Once we arrived to base camp, John Henry started up the old Land Cruiser which sputtered to life in a cloud of smoke. The beast sounded like it was breathing hard to get started this morning in the crisp 40 degree air, but after getting all our gear loaded we were off. Unfortunately it would be a foreshadowing of my own inability to inhale oxygen in this place.

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The initial climb from camp was rocky and steep. John Henry promised the road would get smoother shortly, but my kidneys were praying for sooner rather than later. I was wearing more of my diet coke than I was drinking at this point. As promised, shortly we topped the ridge and came into a large flat, that appeared to have been burned earlier in the year. We immediately began seeing game and our first kudu bull was spotted within 10 minutes of leaving camp. It was official, the adventure had begun. Before pulling away from our first sighting, we had a leak in a rear tire. Within 30 minutes, our 1st flat. It’s another case of foreshadowing when you have to start numbering the flats during the trip. As Tony Markis says on Under Wild Skies Africa hunting show, it isn’t a proper safari until you’ve had a flat or been stuck. I surmised this meant we were already on a “proper safari”. This property is lightly hunted as I was only the 2nd hunter to be on it this season. The animals were aware of our presence but not overly alarmed until the Land Cruiser came rumbling to a stop. It’s nice seeing game in their natural behavior. I’m used to deer in over-hunted areas running like the Devil himself is on their tail at the first hint of danger. This area held impala, wildebeest, klipspringer, steenbuck, bushpig, leopard and did I mention BIG kudu? I soon learned the preferred hunting method would be to wait for the sun to clear the ridge tops casting a soft yellow light over the valley and mountainside. The horns of the kudu would then glow like Darth Vader’s light saber and boy did they.

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We had spotted 11 kudu bulls before lunch, with several mature bulls but nothing over 50 inches. That’s a good week on most average safaris so I was excited to see what the remainder of the hunt would hold. We hiked up a short mountain (thankfully) to a small cabin overlooking a valley for lunch. We sat on the porch looking over miles and miles of South African bushveld eating kudu burgers. What a treat! I forgot why I was there and just drank in the goodness of it all.

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The afternoon was similar to the morning; we were seeing game and especially kudu. We came across a very nice steenbuck, but didn’t have the right gun for the task so we passed. We wouldn’t make that mistake again. As we moved around the ranch, John Henry would recount the places were previous monster bulls had been taken: Clay, Lowell, Derek, Dave etc. It didn’t seem possible to me that big kudu were killed in these areas as the mountainsides seemed strangely open for big kudu to be hanging out. Another special stop included John Henry showing us a mound of “rocks” jutting up from the sand. It didn’t look to be anything speculator until we begun sifting through the clutter and located a couple of fragmented pieces of pottery. John Henry explained the pottery was thousands of years old and it dawned on me these were a trace of the ancient hunters that had been here before us. As tempted as I was to snag a souvenir, I returned the pieces to the pile for the next adventurer to discover. I might even leave a spent brass casing somewhere this trip so that hunters centuries from now might make a “discovery” themselves.


Then it happened as it often does in hunting, we rounded the corner in an area I would later name Pharaoh Valley (Valley of the Kudu Kings). Standing 60 yards off the road barely screened by the brush was a serious kudu bull. I immediately knew this was a special bull, three visible curls with the naked eye. We were in a standoff, neither the kudu nor I willing to make the first move. Out of my peripheral vison, I could see John Henry glassing the bull or as he says “glossing”.:D It seemed like minutes but I dared not reach for the rifle without approval. Finally the bull slowly turned and melted back into the brush. I looked over at John Henry in disbelief- “around 53” he said, “we can do better…. I hope!!” Even John Henry doubted our decision to pass this bull. Lisa reminded me of something I always say to hunters that I guide, “Never pass on day one what you would shoot on the last day.” She really wasn’t helping the situation at the time as I prayed I wouldn’t have to eat my own words of advice before the trip ended. We finished our first day without clicking off the safety. In total we had spotted 21 kudu bulls, over 100 impala, steenbuck, klipspringer and a small group of bushpigs. It had to be one of the best hunting days of my career and not a single shot had been fired. Back at camp and a dinner of roasted leg of lamb and veggies. Then right between the main course and dessert, a strange noise vibrated through me. "Did you hear that John Henry asked?" Yes but I didn’t know what it was-Lions!! Our lodge was only 600 yards from the Marakele National Park and lions were patrolling the perimeter. On my previous two trips we weren’t in an area that contained lions, but this national park had it all: lions, hyenas, elephants, buffalo; the smorgasbord of African wildlife.


Marakele National Park is home to the big five (elephant, lion, leopard, cape buffalo and rhino) as well as sixteen species of antelopes and over 250 species of birds, including the largest colony of Cape griffon vultures in the world (around 800 breeding pairs). The Matlabas River runs through the park. Previous to its foundation as a National Park, it was home to naturalist Eugene Marais. Marakele was founded as Kransberg National Park in 1994 with the purchase of 58 square miles, and was shortly after renamed to its current name. By 1999, the park had expanded to 260 square miles.

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After dinner, I have a Castle Light, my preferred South African beer, and Lisa sipped an Amarula, a popular South African liquor made from the fruit of a marula teee. A few more tidbits on the subject from Wikipedi :cool:: Only the female marula tree bears fruit. By mid-February, the yellow-skinned, white-fleshed fruits are ripe for plucking. Many wild animals, but especially elephants, are crazy about the succulent, nutritious fruit. They’ve been known to ram the tree to dislodge their favorite snack if none has fallen to the ground. It’s not only the flavor but also the folklore surrounding Amarula that adds to the marula fruit liqueur’s appeal. Though the belief that elephants purposely seek out the fermented marula fruits, and become 'drunk' from them is pure myth, the marula tree is the stuff of legend.

No need for help tonight- I was out like a light as soon as I hit the bed. The sunrise would bring another day and more opportunity.
 

buck wild

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Day 2 Steenbuck gold

Sunday July 19, 2015


We were up earlier this morning, just before daylight, but I didn’t need an alarm or wakeup call as I had already been wakened by the pre-dawn lion roars. It’s amazing how that sound shutters through your whole body even when the lions are miles away. They truly deserve the King of the Jungle title they have earned.


We were heading back to the kudu spot. It was a short 25 minute drive from the lodge that took us along the perimeter of the national park. Warthogs and steenbuck were all along the roadside and then I spotted a tornado of dust coming from the middle of the road ahead of us. As we got closer, it was a spotted hyena. Man he didn’t like being in front of us and was kicking in an extra gear to get to the brush line. Apparently he had been trying to find a way into the park for a little early morning hunting himself. It was windy this morning and slightly warmer than yesterday.


We began spotting kudu right out of the gate, literally. We had approached the mountains from a different road than yesterday. I guess John Henry also didn’t want to transverse up the same rocky road we had used day one. I was grateful for that and more of my diet coke made it into my mouth this morning. Before we even reached the area I had named Kudu Valley, we spotted a good bull standing in the road. We inched closer and realized there were two bulls together. What a sight to behold at 50 yards. The striking dark, chocolate face with white chevrons markings across their eyes, and steel grey coats with white stripes is unlike any North American animal. They are large in stature like our elk, but the gorgeous colors are unrivaled to anything in the North American hemisphere. Throw in two large spiral horns that stretch toward the heavens and I can think of no more majestic animal. They are known as the Gray Ghost in African hunting lore for their ability to disappear into thin air and in a blink, the two bolted toward the mountain. It seemed we encountered most of the kudu bulls within 400 yards of the base of the mountain or up on the sides of them. It is their natural environment to be in the mountains, so if available, it seems that is where they prefer.

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By lunch, we had spotted 9 kudu bulls, several in the upper 40s. We also bumped into two very nice impalas- 23"+. For lunch, we had a real treat, a braai (South African for outdoor cooking over a fire). John Henry took us to an open flat consisting of sand and rock where he proceeded to gather dry wood that was scattered about. In a flash, he had a small fire going, gathered a few rocks and was grilling lamb chops over an open fire. It all seemed so simple. Why don’t we do similar things while out hunting? Our Texas grilling always involves a big fire and usually an even bigger pit.:D After the chops were done, John Henry grilled some sandwiches that consisted of cheese and tomatoes, until toasted over the fire. They somewhat tasted like mini pizzas. He explained this was a very traditional grilled food in their area and something they cooked almost every braai. The sandwiches were the perfect complement to soak up the grease left on our finger tips from gnawing on the lamb chops. I really felt we were on a full-fledged Safari now. We tried resting in the shade of a skinny tree but the sun was starting to beat down and the nats were having a field day, so we resumed hunting just so we could have a breeze in our face. It worked and we were able to lose the pesky critters in our departure from the area. Plus, it was another reason to get back to hunting, as if we needed any other incentive.

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After lunch as we came into Pharaoh Valley. John Henry decided to climb the mountain to get a different vantage point. Lisa and I remained down below in the Land Cruiser snacking on almonds. After 10 minutes, John Henry whistled to get my attention. I grabbed the rifle and started up the rocky slope. After taking two short rest breaks I arrived at John Henry’s perch. He was sitting in the shade of the lone tree on top of a 6 foot tall rock. He motioned for me to climb up. I laughed a little and advised him I’d need to catch my breath before I rolled back down the mountain:eek:. I finally climbed onto the rock and John Henry pointed out a good kudu bull 400 yards northwest of our position. It was a mature bull, but again John Henry thought we could do better. This time I was actually glad to hear it as I was doubtful I could have calmed my heaving chest enough to get off a steady shot. I remained on the rock watching the bull casually feed while John Henry climbed higher. I watched the bull feed away from me and disappear into a seemingly open area. It was another testament to the ability of these 600-700 pound animals to vanish into thin air. I sat alone on the rock, looking over the valley, lost in my disbelief that was I was actually here and hunting giant kudu. I could see Lisa sitting in the Land Cruiser below and tried to get her attention by waving, but apparently her eyelids were blocking her view as she never responded to my signals:sleep:. I found walking down the mountain more dangerous than going up as my knees were buckling walking over and around the rocks. I surely didn’t want to shorten my trip because of a broken ankle or busted knee so I was ultra-careful getting down. Once we returned to the vehicle and I looked back up the mountain, I was depressed in discovering I had barely made it 1/3 up to the top when I had reached the rock outcropping vantage point. That was valuable information at this stage in the hunt as I realized I might only have one to two full mountain climbs in me and we’d need to be picky in choosing when to burn those chances. I felt a lot like that old Land Cruiser did the first morning we when cranked her up. There didn’t appear to be enough oxygen in the air to support either of us getting to the top.

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Later that afternoon, very near where we spotted the steenbuck the day before, an orange dart jumped from a small bush near the road. This area of the ranch contained deep sand much like the coastal areas in South Texas. I’m not sure if it was the same steenbuck from the day before, but he was a shooter non-the-less. He kept darting between small clumps of brush but after a short stalk I was able to get a shoot. The sand in this area was deep and loosely packed. It felt like I was walking on a treadmill and not making any forward progress trudging through it. Maybe the steenbuck felt the same, which is why he finally stopped himself. For whatever reason, I was grateful and we are successful on my first animal of the trip- a gorgeous, old male 4"s in length. We don’t have any animals similar in North America and I was impressed by the agility of the small antelope. Between the sand, rocks and steep mountains, the land appeared to be signaling to me that I’d have to earn everything it provided! I wouldn’t want it any other way.


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buck wild

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Due to the mid-afternoon heat, we stashed him under a tree that provided more shade than any beach umbrella. I’m not sure how the canopy of that little tree grew so thick but it created the perfect cool storage spot. We hoped that a hyena or leopard wouldn’t be by our African cooler for a mid-day snack before our return. I was relieved when he was still there several hours later. There’s no better sign of a well maintained property than seeing the smaller game animals flourish along with the larger, more sought after game. It really speaks to the commitment of the ranch managers to provide the adequate resources for all the animals. Although we were still hunting kudu, overall sightings had dropped from the day before. I was beginning to pay close attention to the large impala rams on the ranch. On my first trip, I had taken a nice impala and had informed John Henry that I probably wouldn’t be interested in anything less than a 25" ram. Several we were seeing were getting real close to that mark. Sometime during the day, we encountered flat tire #2.

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The light began to fade as we trekked back to camp and then once again as the day before out of thin air, there stood a magnificent kudu bull at 75 yards. We had caught him leaving the flats going up the mountain. He stood motionless behind a tree with his left horn partially obscured from our view. Decision time again except this time I was audibly describing what I was seeing to John Henry hoping he’d give the green light. All I got in return was, “very old bull, maybe 51/52, we can do better.” We continued to watch him and eventually he strolled up the hill. This ended Day 2 but the second sighting of a large kudu bull in two days gave me great hope for things to come.

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Darkness fell on another fabulous hunt and we headed back to the lodge. Every day on our trip to or back from Mamba, we have spotted armed game patrols in the Marakele National Park. This evening we noticed several game scouts on foot as they patrolled the perimeter for poachers. Dinner tonight: braised oxtail with potatoes, rice and chocolate molten cake with custard. Oxtail is definitely an underrated entrée when prepared correctly, the tender meat falls from the bone in its own rich natural juices. As a poor kid growing up, I had my share, but not since my childhood. I didn’t consider it to be a delicacy as a child, just something we had to eat because it had been attached to a cow at one time:p, but go price it in grocery stores now. It costs more per pound than prime steaks. I guess I should have been a little more appreciative as a youngster.

We celebrated a little extra tonight due to our success and John Henry offered a “Cane and Coke”. It’s a South African liquor, Mainstay, like rum mixed with cola. I chose Coca Cola Light (that’s what they call diet coke) to accompany my ‘Cane. It’s a dark moon, headed to a quarter moon tonight. Right before I dosed off the lions were staking their claim again. Lisa quips she doesn’t like it, the lions roaring, and loudly proclaims that I’m no good to her in the middle of the night if I keep taking these sleeping pills. I assume she thought saying it louder might change my plan or possibly frighten the lions. Neither worked.:D
 

Albertaguy

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Excellent report so far! Sounds like it was a kudu paradise!
 

Wheels

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Really enjoy your writing style. Great report so far.
 

Buff-Buster

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Loving the report so far! Not sure what part of Texas you reside in but we need to get together to swap stories some day. I have a stash of "Cane" at my bar for special occasions!! :D Beers:
 

PLM

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Great story from a fellow Texan. Keep it coming!
 

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