SOUTH AFRICA: My First African Safari With Game 4 Africa Safaris

Byron Hapgood

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If you enjoy short, to the point hunt recaps, this thread is not for you. I hope to give a detailed description of my first ever African safari. As a 1st timer, I know how important the information in these pages can be and I hope to help someone else who believes that the dream of an African safari is not reachable.

The backstory. I began to seriously consider a safari in 2014. I began reading this site and through research I realized how far the dollar can go in Africa. I should mention that I am not a wealthy man. While I consider myself blessed, my wife and I are both nurses so we are not flush with excess cash. The next thing I did was attend the Dallas SCI expo in Jan 2015. A very impressive event indeed. I spoke with 2 outfitters for an extended length of time and felt comfortable with both. I emailed them multiple times, looked at travel options, even finalized a list of game I wanted to hunt. But I never pulled the trigger. Fast forward to last year. I am cruising the site and I see an offer on the Deals page for a Spiral Horn Slam for 5500.00 posted by Game4Africa.https://www.africahunting.com/threads/spiral-horn-slam-hunt-only-5-500.31367/#post-300072 I checked their website and verified what I thought. The trophy fee's alone were more than 5500.00. Sounded too good to be true. I emailed to get more information and a list of references.

All email correspondence I had was with Wikus Coetzee (PH and son of the owner). I looked at my phone prior to writing this post and we had 44 different messages between the time I first contacted Game4Africa and the time I left for my trip. Each reply was in less than 48 hours. Each time I came up with 5-10 questions and every time Wik (pronounced Vik) was able to answer them. I spoke to 4 or 5 different references and received great feedback on the operation. One reference was actually from my hometown (small world) he was extremely helpful and is active on this site as well. At the same time I was doing the research I also found a discounted fare. Houston (IAH) to JNB (through ATL) for under 800.00. Now I live 4 hours from IAH but the fare from my home airport was 1300 and I was planning on my wife joining me. I sat on the idea for a couple of days and the fare increase to almost 900.00 before my wife finally pushed me to just book the trip. Next I contacted Wik and verified the dates were good, and I booked the hunt and the airfare. Wow, it sinks in that my dream will be coming true. I am going to Africa!!

In further discussions with Wik and more research into hunt reports and pictures from Game4Africa I kept noticing the GIANT waterbuck they were taking. Wik mentioned in one email that they have so many big Waterbuck bulls that they would be willing to substitute the Eland in my package for a Waterbuck, Impala, and Springbuck. That would increase by bag to six animals not 4 for my six days of hunting. As much as I wanted to hunt Eland, I thought this was a better option for a beginner so I agreed to this generous offer. I cannot say if this offer would still be available, Wik could answer any questions. The only other options I added was I brought along my wife as an observer, and added 1 additional day for touring some local game parks.

The next months brought lots of research into taxidermy, shipping agents, importers, shooting charts, ect.. I won't bore everyone with these details because there are many experience people on this board to give better advice than I. This site was very valuable to me during this process. I even did some shooting from sticks during these months.

Fast forward to May 27th, my wife Suzie and I drive to Houston to prepare to fly out the next morning on my dream trip of a lifetime. Here is a pic of my first African Sunset in the bush as a little tease of what is to come.

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Byron Hapgood

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May 28th finally arrived and Suzie and I boarded the plane from Houston to ATL. We had a long layover but I did that on purpose. I didn't want anything to delay my trip. We had a nice dinner in the airport prior to boarding. I was able to secure the infamous row 29 on the way. Seats E and F. What a pleasure, not doubt the best seats outside of first class on the aircraft. The bulkhead seating means that after 20 min in the air you can get your carry on bag down and place in front of you as a footrest for the entire flight. You can stand and stretch without disturbing anyone and there is not bathroom on this bulkhead which means no people gathering around you while you try to sleep. I would recommend paying the 209.00 extra for the Delta Comfort upgrade if you can secure one the nine seats in that row.

We arrived in JNB around 6pm and took a cab to the Protea OR Tambo. We picked this hotel just because we had Marriot points and it was free. I am sure Afton Guest House, African Sky, or City Lodge would have all been just as nice. But the Protea was clean, quiet despite its location close to the airport, and the food in the restaurant was good. We got a decent nights sleep and then back to the airport for our trip to Port Elizabeth. The hotel transport was fine. The OR Tambo airport is one of the nicest I have seen. Very well organized. I decided early on to not take a rifle. I used one of the available rifles the outfitter provided. It was nice to have one less thing to worry about on my first trip. Trip to PE went well and we exited the aircraft about 30 min ahead of schedule. We stepped outside the terminal and met up with Wik almost immediately. He was quite surprised we were early.

Bags in the Landcruiser and off we went. My wife wanted a quick stop at the grocery for a few snacks. She was very concerned that she wouldn't enjoy the African cuisine. She is a picky eater. Next we headed down to the beach so Suzie and I could put our feet in the Indian ocean for the first time. We spent a little time at the beach and then headed to Relive Taxidermy to meet Paul. Spoke with him, looked at his work, discussed some options, and we were off for the lodge.

When we drove to the lodge (about 2 hours) we noted the terrain to be rolling hills/mountains with thick brush. Very similar to New Mexico. We past numerous game farms along the way and Wik was quick to point out different game we passed. When we arrived to the lodge it looked just like the website. A large main lodge with all the amenities and 3 individual chalets just off the main lodge. Suzie and I were taken to the 1st chalet. The chalet is nicely appointed with a full en suite bath and comfortable bed. Air conditioning is available and a front porch to watch game in the irrigated fields below camp.

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View off the front porch

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After we were settled and unpacked, Wik offered a game drive before dinner. Without my wife knowing, I had asked Wik to do something nice like a game drive or sunset viewing on our arrival day because it was Suzie and I's 19th wedding anniversary. After a short drive behind the camp, we turned toward a lake and we found a table set up with chairs, champagne, strawberries, and snacks. Champagne bottle and glasses were even specialized with our info (not sure if you can see it in the pic). Very nice touch and remember, this is our arrival day. Arrival and departure days are free of charge! I am not sure if this level of service is normal for South Africa, but I was very impressed.

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Wik left us with a radio and we sat and enjoyed our first sunset together on this continent.

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Tomorrow we start hunting.
 

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Byron Hapgood

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I got almost no sleep the first night in camp. Nothing to do with the accommodations, I was anxious, nervous, and the jet lag effected me for sure. That was a long night. But when 6am came, Suzie and I prepared and met Wik for breakfast in the main lodge. The afternoon before we shot the rifle I was going to hire for the week. A Sako 7mm Rem mag with a Swarovski scope. I fired 2 shots from the bench that were separated by 1/2 inch at 100 meters. Next I shot one from the sticks that cut the same hole as the previous shot. One of my better shots of the week but more on that to come later.

So after breakfast we loaded up the landcruiser picked up two trackers (Mike and X) and 2 dogs (Rambo and Diesel) and off we went. Beautiful sunrise. We are starting this morning Kudu hunting. We are hunting on the land that the Coetzee brothers grew up on. It is directly across the street form the lodge. This concession is large (about 16,000 acres I believe) and the brush is thick. As we drive through I notice the brush is higher than the truck. Not sure how we can see game walking in this. We drive for about 15 minutes across the property and up onto a steep hillside and started to glass. We moved to a couple of different spots glassing and the trackers and Wik were picking out lots of game but it was taking Suzie and I a long time to find things. It all looked green and grey! The second spot we stopped we could see 7 different bulls from that location but none that got Wik excited. We went out of foot and covered a lot of country. Glassing from elevated position down into dark, thick canyons. At one point, we walked to within 5 feet of a warthog that had bedded down in the sun. Wik actually tossed a rock at it to get it to run off. We walked almost the entire morning and we saw more kudu, blesbok, Wildebeest, giraffe, zebra, impala, and nyala. On the way back to the truck we searched some specifically steep, rugged terrain that the bushbuck like to frequent. Tried to put a stalk on one but we didn't succeed.

Kudu hunting is like elk hunting in the west. Lots of glassing, locate a mature bull, and make a stalk and hope to get lucky. The afternoon hunt was very similar to the morning. Late in the evening we located a mature bull on the other hillside and we all four took off after him (my wife and one tracker included). We climbed down some extremely thick draw and then back uphill fast enough that my heart was pounding. Light was fading fast so we had little time to wait. We got close and ran into some impala. We had to move slowly left to stay out of view. Next we ran into the kudu cows, again we had to slow our sneak. Finally we made it to the area where the bull was spotted. When we cleared the last brush, all we found was a lone Zebra at the waterhole (we had stalked to within 30 yards). The mature Kudu bull had disappeared. The sun was setting on my first day with nothing to show in the salt. But that stalk was exactly why I came to Africa. That is how I like to hunt. I was hooked.

Sunrise
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How do they spot this

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The terrain
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Very tired after walking and stalking the first day. Excellent dinner and off to bed early to try and sleep this time.
 

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Byron Hapgood

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Before I start on Day 2, let me discuss one issue that concerned me as a first time safari participant. Hunting in a high fence area is a reality in South Africa, but still concerned me. After day one my wife asked me if I was upset that I hadn't taken an animal yet. Actually, I was very happy. I was concerned that the hunting would be too easy. I pictured riding in the truck and spotting game easily and making a stalk. Nothing could be further from the truth. On day one we drove 20 min through the hunting area before we reached an area to glass. We didn't see a single animal. Without a trained eye, it's difficult to even spot game from high ridges. With the steep terrain, thick brush, and large concessions the animals definitely have the advantage here. Ok, on to day 2.

Day 2 started with breakfast at 6:45 after a great nights sleep! We traveled across the road again today and drove to the steepest, deepest draw on the property to hunt the elusive bushbuck. We parked the truck below the peak of the mountain and hiked over the side and down into the steep hillside to glass. We immediately found KUDU. There were no bushbuck to be found, but one lone Kudu bull in the bottom of the draw, and 3 other bulls on the two hillsides. There were two bulls together with some cows only 120 yards to the left on the hillside. They both looked huge to me (every bull did) but Wik assured me that they were not ready yet. The bull below and on the right hillside were both nice as well, but still not big enough. It was great to sneak in so close. We searched the entire drainage but only spotted female bushbuck. When we left we Wik did spot a male bushbuck on the opposing ridge but he was moving quickly in thick brush and I just couldn't get him in the scope for any significant time. After about 9am, we switched gears to searching the hillsides for kudu again. Wik and the trackers continued to glass them from every vantage point. Sometimes they could point them out to me, sometimes not. But I was getting better at picking out horns reflecting on the sunlight. We were on an extended walk late in the morning and we spotted some blesbuck and impala in an opening on the opposite ridge. We moved closer and spotted kudu in the brush behind them. Then suddenly the bull started running straight at us across the wide open area. This was the only time all week I saw a kudu in the open. The rut was in full effect and I guess he got downwind of cow. He was a very nice bull but still not quite what we were looking for (according to Wik). We walked a lot this morning and saw more game including waterbuck, giraffe, and nyala. Back to camp for lunch and a nap during the heat of the day.

We left camp about 2:30pm and headed to a new area this afternoon. This time we were hunting on the same side of the road as the camp. This concession is similar in size (16,000 acres) and terrain but the difference is water. This farm has an irrigation canal that splits a portion of the property. This allows there to be water pumped to ponds all over the property, irrigation set in the lower fields, and even a couple of lakes. We climbed to a high peak and started glassing again. We spotted 9 bulls from the ridge. Many were very far off but moving from right to left across a flat. There were 2 bulls that appeared to Wik to be shooters. Because of the wind we would have to drop off the backside of the mountain and go all the way around in the draw to make a stalk. So that's what we did. We took about 30 min to get down in the flats and started looking for kudu. We saw smaller bulls and cows within 30-40 yards but never the big bulls we were searching for. At one point a bull appeared in the bush, 5 yards from my wife. She was a little surprised!! We kept moving but never caught up to the mature bulls. I see why they call them ghosts. In the far distance we could see a grassy clearing. There was a waterbuck and an impala feeding in, so we took off to get a better look at them. On the way we were walking on an elevated ridge with a steep drop off below us. Wik spotted a Nyala bull feeding below us and studied him in the glass for a long time. This was a perfect set up, and would have been a easy downhill shot but alas, he was not a big enough bull. On to the field. We stalked to within about 60 yards of the field and studied the impala 1st. Not a shooter. Next was the waterbuck. Wik studied him in the glass and said we could do better. I know how good the waterbuck are on this property so I was comfortable but he looked big to me (every animal did). Light was fading fast now so we hurried to get to one last opening to glass. Before we could get there Wik spotted a group of impala ahead of us. The put the sticks up and told me to get ready. He pointed me to the ram who was quartering away at about 150yds. I was in the sticks with safety off when he gave me the green light. I pulled the trigger and impala exploded to the left. The ram was in the back of the group and appeared unaffected. The entire group ran straight up a steep hillside. Wik told me to reload and be ready if the ram gave me another shot. The ram finally sky lined at the top of the ridge and now is 200 yards away and 30 degree angle upward. I put the crosshairs on the shoulder and squeezed the trigger. On the shot, the Impala disappeared.

Wik sent a tracker up the ridge to look, and I was impressed at how fast he ran up that ridge. At the top he radioed that there was no impala. Next he sent the dogs (Diesel and Rambo) and they ran full speed to the top of the ridge. While they were running the trackers found blood. 90 seconds later the dogs found the ram, dead. We got the radio word and I was relieved. My first African animal was on the ground. We drove around near the top of the ridge, and the trackers brought the animal out of the bush. The sky was dark but I could see how nice the ram was. His teeth were completely worn and I imagine this was his last winter. A perfect animal to harvest. Upon inspection, the 1st shot was a complete miss but the second shot was perfect in the shoulder. Day 2 was in the books.

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375 Ruger Fan

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Day 3.

After breakfast we started like every other day, climbed to highest peak and started glassing. Today we were again hunting on the property the lodge is located on. We started glassing the bottom and immediately saw Eland and impala in the bush below us. Kudu were scattered around the bottom but quickly became nervous and spotted us on the ridge. Wik wanted to glass the other side of the hill as well so we walked to that side. Once we reached the other side, Wik immediately said Buffalo. The buffalo were below us feeding. There are a number of buffalo on this property, but they are rare to see. Suzie and I were very excited to get to see them in person only 500 yards away below us.
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As you can see, very impressive. We also saw giraffe again including a juvenile which my wife loved seeing. We moved to another drainage and immediately noted kudu on the opposite hillside. We watched 2 nice bulls follow a group of cows go over the top. Another large group of cows came by on the left at about 200 yards and Wik got me in the sticks waiting for a bull. Once again, no bull showed. Again, would have been a great shot. We walked out of that drainage and moved on across the ranch toward the irrigation canal. On the way the trackers spotted a group of 6 Nyala bulls. We made a stalk on these bulls but they were moving in pretty thick brush. Wik got me in the sticks and we waited for a particular bull to clear. He was walking quartering away in thick brush. He gave me a brief opening and I rushed the shot. Clean miss. I have now missed 2 of three shots and am feeling a little silly. For a whitetail hunter from the south who normally shoots from a solid rest and standing game, the shooting was hard for me. I felt rushed and wasn't taking my time. Wik was very understanding and we discussed him trying to slow me down a little. After verifying the miss we moved on across a flat toward the irrigation canal. It would turn out that missing that bull was a blessing in disguise.

As we moved toward the canal we stopped to glass a ridge. Two bulls crossed the road to the left and disappeared into the bush. Wik glassed an impressive waterbuck so we moved around the canal and worked our way down that ridge. We found some warthogs along the canal. While we are moving down the ridge, Wik through up the sticks and ordered me in. I could see he was excited and that made me excited. There was a large kudu bull on the ridge about 150-200 yards away. He gave me the green light, and I steadied the rifle. I fired and the bulls spun and ran down hill. I felt sure this shot was good but attempted a follow up shot while the bull was running that missed high. Luckily the bull collapsed about 50 yards from where he was shot. After 2.5 days of searching, I had my Kudu. after walking close to 20,000 steps each of the last 2 days he felt well earned.

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An African dream realized. Had I made the shot on the Nyala, I wouldn't have been on this ridge. Funny how that works sometimes. Back to the lodge for lunch. That afternoon, we drove all the way around the concession and entered from the back side. Shortly after pulling through the gate, the trackers noted numerous kudu on the hill. We bailed out of the truck and started to move toward the hill. Wik then spotted 2 Nyala bulls. One was easily seen the other was in the brush. I was in the sticks ready to shoot but Wik insisted that the large bull was still not in the opening (again, they all look big to me). Finally the larger bull stepped into the clear and I made the shot. The bull dropped in his tracks. Everything moved so fast that my head was spinning. As we approached the animal Wik was very impressed. He said this bull was many inches larger than the one I missed earlier. We moved the bull down the hill toward some running water for some great pictures. In just a few hours my safari had become a raging success. The kudu measured 46 3/4 inches and the Nyala was 26 1/2 inches. I am told they are both nice trophies for the EC. I am very pleased.

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How can Day 4 be better than this?
 

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Day 4.

We started the morning like all others. Breakfast and then off to hunt. We drove down the main road to access a distant part of the ranch we hadn't seen yet. A couple miles from camp we saw buffalo again. Another 10-20 buffalo walking along the hillside. Wik commented that we are lucky. Many hunters hunt all week and never see buffalo and we have seen them twice in two different areas. We drove on and then found the new area. We climbed elevation again, parked the truck, and walked up to the summit to glass. We had giraffe on the left side and kudu on the next ridge along with diker and impala. Today we were looking for a waterbuck. We glassed numerous ridges until Wik located a some cows and a bull. The bull was on the opposite ridge with a big draw between us. We couldn't get closer going straight so using the wind we walked off the left side of the hill and around the ridge to close the distance. Finally we round the hillside and the bull is in view. I get in the sticks but Wik says we can do better. He looked big to me but they all do. We moved on and drove to another drainage. We repeated the process of hike and glass and continued to see game. We hiked around a hillside and Wik spotted a large bull waterbuck on the hillside. There were numerous waterbuck cows on the hillside as well as young kudu bulls and cows. Wik looked at the bull briefly and set up the sticks. He said that was "the bull". I got the rifle in the sticks and found the waterbuck slightly quartering too at about 200 yards on the hillside. Wik whispered to shoot directly in the shoulder. I got steadied and squeezed the trigger. The sound of the rifle was followed by the smack of the bullet. The hillside exploded and all the game took off to the left. Must have been 20 animals. Wik thought the shot was back so we sent the tracker to look for blood. No blood and tracks everywhere. Wik decided to release Diesel and within 90 seconds he was barking. The dogs are taught to bark if the animal is found alive. We saw the buck jump up and move down the ridge into the brush. Wik loaded Suzie and I in the truck and drove quickly down the hill to a vantage point where we could see the drainage from below. This way we could see the bull if he came down the hill in either direction. After waiting there for some time we heard Diesel barking again still up on the ridge. We took off up the ridge and worked our way to the barking. Diesel had the buck standing in some very thick brush. The only thing we could see was the horns sticking up above the brush. Diesel kept barking which kept the attention of the bull so we could get close. When we got to about 40 yards we still could not see anything. I was in the sticks just in case. Suddenly the bull moved forward and I could see the white under the eyes. Another step and I could see the neck. I made the shot and the bull collapsed. I am sad that my poor shot made this animal suffer longer than needed but I am so impressed by the work of that dog. Diesel saved me and I wouldn't have my trophy without him.

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That afternoon we decided to rest. My wife and I took a walk, did some reading, caught up with family back home, ect.. We spent much time watching the game in front of the chalet including warthog, nyala, eland, impala, ect..

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Then we enjoyed another beautiful African sunset. And after dark we took a night game drive with the spotlight which was fun. We got to see even more game including a particular porcupine.
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Byron Hapgood

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37
Hunting reports
Africa
1
Day 5

We spent day 5 touring a cheetah rescue and the Addo Elephant National Park. This was a highlight day for my wife. She is a cat lover and getting to see all the big cats and getting to pet a cheetah was the highlight of her trip. The park was very impressive. Some go and never see an elephant, we had them at 3 meters. We are having incredible luck so far on this trip. Here are a few pics.
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And if that wasn't enough, we saw this on the way home. Driving by a wildlife preserve these two were standing at the fence. Almost never happens.

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And we spotted buffalo on the Game 4 Africa property on the way in (3rd time). We saw all the Big 5 in one day!!
 

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Byron Hapgood

AH senior member
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Location
Benton, LA
Media
37
Hunting reports
Africa
1
Day 6

Preface: The animal that least excited me on my list before I came to Africa is the bushbuck. I have read how hard they are to hunt but I never fell in love with the idea. Prior to day 6 I discussed changing the plan with Wik. Since I will never be a man who can afford a buffalo hunt, I asked about hunting Blue Wildebeest. I wanted to hunt them the way they hunt buffalo. Stalk very close. Wik agreed and we came to an agreement on the exchange. Day 6 we would hunt for my "poor mans buffalo".

This morning we only drove about a mile or so from camp and climbed the highest peak to glass. At the top Wik pointed out a large group of Eland, some kudu, and a diker. He spotted a group of blue wildebeest at almost a mile away. The tracker found another 2 lone bulls in another part of the canyon, so we decided to go after them first. On the way off the mountain we looked off the other side and saw buffalo again. This time they were walking away at 500 yards and 500 feet below us. They almost immediately caught our wind and were gone (4th sighting). We got down below their position and started a stalk into the wind. We spooked some kudu during the stalk and it was enough to push the wildebeest over the ridge. On to the other group. We drove the truck down and around their position and approached them downwind of them. We came in as quietly as possible. Once we located them, they were lying down. We could see 4 in a small clearing. We looked them over and 2 looked like shooters. We waited for them to stand but they didn't. Wik tried a whistle and even tossed a rock, to no avail. Then a young bull stood and repositioned and lied back down. The next whistle got them all up. Wik had discussed the importance of making a good, low shoulder shot. How tough the buffalo are to locate if wounded. Once the group was up, several females came out from behind the brush. The best bull was selected but I was waiting for a clear shot. Finally we got the bull clear and I fired. The bull leaped to the left and then jumped down to the right and fell over dead less than 20 yards from where the bullet struck him. My best shot of the week. A great stalk and a great hunt that had me shaking prior to the shot. I can't imagine doing it with a buffalo.

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The afternoon was spent resting and relaxing. My wife and Diesel had become very close. I went on a game drive that evening with John and Amanda (Wik's parents and owners of Game 4 Africa) which we saw a number of game animals.

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Byron Hapgood

AH senior member
Joined
Nov 11, 2015
Messages
50
Reaction score
79
Location
Benton, LA
Media
37
Hunting reports
Africa
1
Day 7

I had the option of either a springbuck or blesbuck for my final animal. We decided to drive an hour from the lodge and visit one of the low fence concessions Game 4 Africa has in the Karoo. We drove out about 7am and arrived at the hunting area about 8. The landscape was much different here. Wide open plains with minimal brush and cover.
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As we were driving down the 2 track that lead to the property Wik spotted a group of kudu coming out of the bottom and headed toward the fence to his concession. There was a single bull in the back of the group. Immediately Wik was interested. He words were, you will never kill a better free range bull than that in the EC. He estimated him at 50 inches. We discussed the situation and since it doesn't cost anything to hunt him (not until you shoot) we said lets give it a try. We drove to the property gate, and immediately hurried to get above the kudu. We found one small clump of brush to hide in. Within 2 min the cows fed toward us and paused at 20 yards to our left. They continued to feed past us. I just knew the bull would come next. He never did. We waited and searched that bottom. To this day we have no idea how he escaped. I guess that is how he lived that long. Back to hunting the smaller game. We moved through the concession and saw numbers of springbuck but all were running off when the truck got within 800 yards. We drove to a gate, and as the tracker was opening it, I spotted a lone blesbuck on the hillside in a group of cattle. Surprised I found him first, Wik checked him out and said he was worth a closer look. The cattle were uphill but there was a little cover and a berm next to a livestock pond we could use for cover. We approached and by the time we get to the berm, the blesbuck is heading down to water, mixed in with the cows. Once he cleared the cows and neared the water I was in the sticks. One shot to the shoulder and he was down. Shot at about 70 yards. Wik immediately commented on how odd it was to shoot anything at short distances in this open cover. Another awesome stalk and hunt.

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We continued on through the property and saw numbers of awesome game. We saw Gemsbok, Bontebok, Mountain zebra, scimitar horned Orynx, wildebeest, ect..

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What a nice bonus to be able to hunt two totally different areas within an hours drive. I highly recommend anyone who visits to make the drive for at least one day.

We enjoyed lunch in the field, then headed back to Grahamstown. This is the closest town to the lodge and the location of the family butcher shop. We took the grand tour of the shop and learned a little about processing and selling of beef, pork, chicken and game. Very enjoyable.
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Then back to Kudu ridge for our last night.

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We found eland in the field below camp on our return.
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We spent the last hours of my hunt chasing some warthogs but they got the best of me. One actually walked to within 5 yards of me but he stayed in the brush. What a great finish to a great day.
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