SOUTH AFRICA: My First African Hunting Safari With Nick BOWKER HUNTING SOUTH AFRICA

Trogon

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I just got home yesterday (Friday April 30) from my first African trip with @Nick BOWKER HUNTING SOUTH AFRICA , and had an excellent trip. This trip was originally slated for July 2020, and I was able to fit it in this year even with the uncertainty of traveling with Covid 19 issues. I am happy to report it was not that difficult to have the RT-PCR test conducted before traveling, and before I returned from SA. More details a little further in this report. I'll do a continuing report on a day-by-day happening.
I flew British Airways from Cincinnati to Washington, DC on a Saturday, then flew Ethiopian on the next Sunday to Addis Ababa, then on to Johannesburg, SA. Spent Monday evening at Journeys in Africa, then flew to Port Elizabeth SA on Tuesday morning, where I was met by my PH, Ben, and driven to Olivefountain Ranch, near Bedford SA (about a 2 hour trip). I got to meet everyone at the ranch, sight the rifle I would be using and go out for looking over a small part of the ranch for a bit. I had a very nice two room cottage with a big, comfortable bed and a huge bathroom for accommodations for my visit. Evenings were spent with everyone over appetizers, then great dinners, drinks and conversation. I really enjoyed Castle Lite and SA red wines. And no TV for almost 2 weeks was a big plus!

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Looking forward to your report!
 

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Day 2 was my first full day at Olivefountain and Impala ended up as the first animal of my eight animal safari (Impala, Kudu, Nyala, Black Wildebeest, Springbuck, Warthog, Blesbuck and Mountain Reedbuck). Rob Bowker had arrived the evening before and offered to be the Land Cruiser driver and help with spotting, which was a big plus. Ben set us off on a stalk along a scrubby hillside for impala, which had several but not what he wanted to find, but I was able to see these animals up pretty close. We moved to another area with thicker cover and several more impala were spotted and a stalk was set up. I followed Ben across a hillside trying to be quiet (and realized more exercise should have been in my pre-hunt plans). A young impala ram stepped out between us and the intended group of older rams and stared at us for at least ten minutes before we could move around him (I thought for sure this would be the end of our stalk). The group would appear then move behind other acacia trees, and we had to keep cutting around trees and still keep an eye on the young ram. A porcupine popped out in front of us and ran past, fortunately not giving us away (but great to see one). Finally we had a window to look over the older rams, and Ben told me which one I should take. Rifle went up on the sticks, man I was nervous and tried to settle down for the shot, fired and the ram was hit and ran off in poor shape. I fired a second round to no effect and he fled into the brush. Ben assured me he was hard hit and wouldn't travel far. Lots of blood to track but Black Jack the terrier and one of the beagles were let loose and the impala was found quickly. I was thrilled to have my first African game (it was surreal honestly), after shooting white-tailed deer for nearly all of my big game hunting experiences.
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Trogon

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This is probably a good spot to mention what equipment I was able to use on my trip, as I didn't bring a rifle of my own (I really didn't want the hassle with the it, and the use of an outfitter rifle and ammo as part of the hunting package was pretty appealing). Nick provided a Sako 85 chambered in 300 Winchester Magnum, with a Swarovski dS 5-25x52P range-finding scope. Handloaded rounds were Hornady 180 grain ELD-X bullets. A big plus was having a supressor which took away the recoil and report, loved shooting this rifle. The shooting sticks were Rudolph quad sticks, which I honestly didn't like initially but after some serious and helpful constructive criticism on my shooting stance and shooting techniques by Ben and Rob, really got me shooting at distances I would have not thought possible. My average shooting distances on white-tailed deer in Kentucky are well under 100 yards so this was new territory for me. It's probably helpful for your PH to know all this advance, a dumb error on my part.
I brought my Zeiss Victory T-fl 8x32 binos, good for birdwatching here in the US but definitely lacking for looking at big game at long distance, 10X is much better. I'll be better prepared next time.
 
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Trogon

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Later in the afternoon we were after Mountain Reedbuck, of which I saw plenty on the ranch. We had several big thunderstorms to work around after locating a ram with several ewes. A stalk was made but little cover was to be had in a large field; the group leapt to the hooves and ran off but stopped several hundred yards away. I tried a shot but it ended up as a poor hit, missed second shot and off he ran. Searched until it was too dark to see. I was really disappointed not locating the ram that evening as well as the next morning. Pretty bummed about my shooting. It was really hard not to think about. I should have passed on that shot.
After searching the next morning for the reedbuck, later in the 2nd day went searching for a Nyala...this was an animal I truly wanted to hunt (as well as Kudu). We traveled to the top of an escarpment overlooking a big floodplain that had alot of trees and shrubs, as well as open grassy areas. We had a baboon sentinel barking at us for quite awhile until we moved out of sight on the hillside. Lots of kudu and nyala cows were moving around to view. In a large, dense thicket with some openings suddenly a group of four Nyala bulls emerged. Several cows ran to this group and some posturing with the bulls started happening and the biggest bull stepped into the open, and I was told to take him. First shot struck high in the spine, and when he was down another shot put into him. Beautiful animal to take home! I was excited to see and get my Nyala. Very scenic area to be able to hunt, we visited this valley later for another client's Kudu.

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Trogon

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Enjoying your report!
Thanks Mark, this is not easy. I write technical reports for work and can put anybody to sleep! Jet lag kicked in yesterday and it's a bit of a struggle, to say the least.
 

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Nothing sleepy about this report. Please continue as you recover from the jetlag.
 

Ridgewalker

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I am enjoying this! Thanks for struggling through your jet lag to share it with us.
 

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Nice report thanks! Jet lag is no joke so fully understand. Such a treat isn’t it to use outfitter’s or PH’s rifles when they’re good quality. I wish we didn’t have such nonsense regs here for suppressers. Best of both worlds- tame recoil a bit and eliminate that ear damaging crack.
 

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After hunting the Nyala, an opportunity to hunt a property further away came up for Kudu (this was a large cattle and sheep ranch north of Bedford) through an acquaintance of Ben. So we hit the road about 430 am (2 hour drive) near the Winterberg Mountains (I think). Higher altitude for sure. Kyle Brown (property owned by Kenny Brown) accompanied Rob, Ben and I with several trackers. We had a bit of fog so we waited for that to clear before moving off to view down into grassy and tree covered valleys. Located a young Kudu bull with a cow but not much else, so we moved some distance away to another large grassy plain. A real stud of a Kudu was seen chasing a cow a long ways off, and a stalk was planned and begun. I'm not sure how far but when South Africans start walking they really cover ground. Made a big loop to come in behind this Kudu, snuck through a few cattle which ignored us thankfully, and began approaching a thicket where the kudu had been seen earlier. This was very slow and painstaking at this point, a kudu was in front of us but it wasn't the larger bull. We watched for bit and started moving forward, when suddenly (of course) a young kudu bull that had been resting behind a bush stood up 50 yards in front of us and gave us the stinkeye. We waited but the stalk was blown and off he ran, as well as any other kudu nearby. After this event, took a quick lunch break and went off to another section of the ranch where we could walk ravine edges and view the bottoms.
Immediately started seeing kudu cows on the far side of the valley and kudu bulls starting chasing them further down to a wooded section, it seemed as though Kudu were everywhere! Pretty exciting to see. Watched two bulls start sparring and they really went at eachother. A large bull began walking up the far side (450 yards away) but I was not confident for a good shot on that animal. We eventually moved off the hillside (I got my tutorial of proper use with the quad shooting sticks with the Sako) and felt much better, practicing some dry fire shots. It was pretty warm at that point, and it was not easy walking at all, rocks upon rocks, and my feet were pretty sore. We drove back to where we had seen the big Kudu bull on the grassy plain earlier in the day, to scope the surrounding area. Ben and Rob had walked away from the truck to look at that area (I was still by the truck) when in the distance there was a windmilling arm belonging to Ben urging us to meet them 200 yards distant. Trying to cover 200 yards quietly and quickly was not easy! Sticks were already up and I threw the rifle on them, and Ben was trying to tell me where the Kudu was, and I was out of breath and wasn't seeing it (because it was much farther away than I realized) when a curse came from Ben, and Rob grabbed me and the sticks and dragged me several feet left and whispered where the Kudu was after moving farther away....these guys were calling out distance to shoot, I laid the crosshairs of the reticle on the Kudu and hit the rangefinding button on the scope...479 yards...a whisper in my left ear, "if you're not comfortable, don't shoot, we'll find another" but I don't know what you call it (Zen?) but that bull was broadside, a soft glow of the setting sun behind it, and something clicked in my head, and I brought the adjusted crosshair up the foreleg and suddenly the trigger broke clean. Lost the animal in the scope and heard Rob say "He;s hit...and down!". Ben took off running with two trackers to make sure all was good, and the shakes really started. That was the longest walk of my life, seemingly took forever. Some backslapping and lots of handshakes all around. Massive and magnificent animal! Lots of pics were taken, and thank the Lord the Land Cruiser could be driven up to it. The ELD-X bullet went through the leg, through the heart and was just beneath the skin on the offside shoulder. We traveled back to the farmhouse to drop Kyle off and show his father. Enjoyed a celebratory Castle Lite or 2, and headed back to Olivefountain. Longest 2 hour drive ever! Met everyone when we got back, more celebration with dinner, beer,wine and Gentleman Jack. I slept like a dead man that night (but a very happy one).
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Trogon

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Thanks guys for all of the nice comments, much appreciated!
 

Trogon

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Nice report thanks! Jet lag is no joke so fully understand. Such a treat isn’t it to use outfitter’s or PH’s rifles when they’re good quality. I wish we didn’t have such nonsense regs here for suppressers. Best of both worlds- tame recoil a bit and eliminate that ear damaging crack.
I came to love shooting that Sako, wish I could afford that Swarovski scope.....I agree completely on the suppressor @fourfive8 , it's stupid to not be able to use them. At the end of my trip I followed along with a father/daughter team as an observer, watching from hundreds of yards away, just a gentle boom when they shot. If it was windy it was difficult to hear their shots.
 

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The day following the Kudu adventure, I felt a little rough from a long day, good drinks and somewhat dehydrated. Today we would look for a good warthog in the morning and see what could be found. Very foggy this morning, no big rush to get out and view hillsides. There was a nice solitary Springbuck ram that frequented the head of a valley not far away from the lodge we visited first, started a stalk but were busted quickly as soon as we saw him, he was off for the races. Springbuck are everywhere on this ranch. The fog started lifting in the valleys so we headed lower to scan the valleys. Saw a nice Common Duiker but it wasn't on my list (some regret later, there were numerous duiker and steenbuck sightings everyday on the ranch, just didn't consider them earlier).
A neat critter was found-actually 2 on the road-the Karoo earthworm. 3-4 foot long!

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After the earthworm encounter, we found a good hillside to view from. I'm amazed how similar the topography is to southeastern Arizona. We saw a flock of helmeted guineafowl first. Next a sow warthog with several piglets. Warthog are here in good numbers. Ben explained that good boars are always a target species and I saw a number of big boars throughout my stay. Scanning the hillside with our binos, suddenly a big boar ambled out of the brush in a clearing. I couldn't tell how good the tusks were but could see them pretty well. Ben thought we should pursue this one so we moved down our hillside but were stymied with a thick band of trees and brush below us-the odds that other warthogs would be in there and we'd spook them was pretty high. Over 300 yards away. He put the sticks up and asked me if I felt confident with the shot-after the previous day with my Kudu, I felt very confident. Rifle went up, hog was broadside, checked the range and let the Sako loose. Sounded like a watermelon being thumped, He ran 20 yards and rolled over kicking. We threaded through the brush and soon were next to him. I'll admit warthog was not a big "get" for me but after seeing him up close was happy I got him. They are odd animals. I think warthogs say "Africa" as much or more that most animals. Another super animal!

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Trogon

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The afternoon was leisurely spent looking for an older Springbuck closer to home or another Mountain Reedbuck, but nothing suitable for a stalk. We saw a big Waterbuck keeping company with a cow that was on the other hunter-in-camps list but it was too late for him to make a stalk until the next day. I tried to identify a few birds (saw a couple Pale Chanting Goshawks being mobbed by Lapwings), lots of LBJ's (Little Brown Jobs) flying around. Blue Cranes must like this habitat as we've seen several and would see many more. Their calls sound identical to our Sandhill Cranes here in the US.
 

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