SOUTH AFRICA: Nocturnal Hunt With Wintershoek & Safari Afrika


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Jan 12, 2010
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Canada, United States, Zimbabwe, South Africa (Eastern Cape; Northern Cape; North West Province, Natal, Mpumalanga, Limpopo), Namibia, Cameroon, Benin, Ethiopia, Liberia, Argentina
There was going to be one hunt report this year – my hunt in Ethiopia, set for November, 2016. However, my South African PH, John Tinley, with whom I’ve hunted at least four times, knows me too well. I can’t resist an interesting hunting opportunity. Last year he had been on a hunt for nocturnal animals in the Limpopo region of South Africa, and had sent me some pictures and ideas for a similar hunt.

Late one night, beset by insomnia, and wary of my wife’s admonition that she was tired of seeing packages come to the door (the result of too much time on the computer during past, similar, bouts of insomnia), I decided to book a hunt instead of buying something. When I told her about the hunt, and she asked whether going to Africa twice in one year might just be overdoing it, I pointed out that it really was her fault. If she hadn’t banned late night online shopping, I would likely just have bought some new shooting sticks, or something similar. As it was, I was forced into booking a hunt. Not my fault at all.

For those who find my long-form hunt reports a bit tiresome, here is the executive summary of this, first, hunt of 2016.

Goal: Mainly nocturnal species, along with fallow deer and anything else which might have the misfortune to cross my path.

Area: Limpopo region of South Africa, near Mokopane.

Outfitter: Booked through Strauss Jordaan at Wintershoek Safaris, with John Tinley as my PH. Hunt was actually run by Richard Lemmer of Safari Afrika, on lands to which he has access.

Guns: Kilimanjaro African .375 H&H, firing 300 grain Norma solids for most small game, with a few 250 grain Trophy Bonded Bear Claws if needed;

Martini Gunmakers .300 Win Mag on its maiden voyage, shooting 180 grain Barnes VOR-TX bullets

Both rifles have Swarovski 1.7 – 10 x 42 Z6i scopes.

Animals sought: (in rough order of priority) Serval, Brown Hyena, Civet, Genet, Honey Badger, Bush Pig, Limpopo Bushbuck, African Wildcat, and Fallow Deer (where did that come from?).

Animals obtained: For that, you will need to be patient.

So here goes.


I decided to try for these nocturnal species in early April. This wasn’t the ideal time – apparently the grass might still be high, making hunting some of these much more challenging. But since I was going away on another hunt in the fall, and had plans for the summer, it really was April or never. So we would just have to make do.

I made my flight plans some months ago. I am flying out of Calgary, Canada, and given the issues involved in transiting the US with firearms, my usual route is through Europe. In the past I have flown through Heathrow exclusively, and I’ve never had any problems at all. This year, there was a better-priced alternative, but it was through Frankfurt. While I have flown through Frankfurt in the past, I stopped when they began requiring a special transit permit, which always seemed to cause confusion. That requirement was abolished not too long ago. As a result, more business for FRA and Lufthansa.

I flew Air Canada from Calgary to Frankfurt. The airline agent was very accommodating, and made no fuss about the firearms. Also, no extra charge. Both rifles were in a Tuffpak case, along with a parka (I wasn’t sure I would need . . .). I had the ammo in a separate Pelican case, and again, no problem. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the airplane was a 787 Dreamliner, a plane I haven’t flown on before. A very nice airplane, I have to say.

The layover in Frankfurt was about 8 hours, so after I found the McDonalds at the airport and had my German Big Mac for lunch, I settled into the Lufthansa lounge to wait for my flight. When the call came, it was a 747 – which is not a new plane by any stretch. The flight was fine, but I have to say that after the Dreamliner, the 747 seemed sort of cramped. Funny – I remember when it first came out, how impressive it was . . .

I arrived in JNB at around 8 am the morning of Friday, April 8. After waiting in what seemed like an endless line to get the passport stamped (back in Africa!), I found my luggage, and headed out to go the Firearms Office to get my guns.

I had gotten my permits issued in advance, through AfricaSky Guesthouse, and as usual, their representative met me when I came out of the baggage area. My PH, John Tinley, was also waiting for me. It was great to see John again, and after some backslapping, we headed up to the Firearms Office.

When I got there, we were the only ones there, so the guns were cleared in an instant. But then, trouble! No ammo box. Not anywhere. Of course, the police were not put out, nor would I expect them to be, but clearly there weren’t going to help me with this issue. The AfricaSky man said it probably got sent to cargo, so he took me through the back of the police office, through a warren of hallways, and we came out of the airport, near some baggage offices. He took me into one, explained the issue to the man behind the counter, who was studiously ignoring a bunch of other, somewhat impatient-looking people. The baggage man said he would go and look for the ammo. And off he went!

About 10 minutes later, he came back, and told my AfricaSky man that the case was now with the police. Many thanks later, we went back through the bowels of the airport to come out in the police office through the back door. I picked up the case, opened it for the nice policeman at his request, got the necessary wave of the hand, and we were free to go. All done, in less than a half hour.

For those who wonder what purpose is served by using one of the permit agencies, this is one good reason. I have little doubt – although this being Africa, I have some doubt – that I could have solved this problem myself. But I would have had to figure out where to go, and how to get there, neither of which was obvious. I would likely not have been able to use the back halls, and would have had to go the long way. I would have had to convince the baggage man to pay attention to me (which would likely have come at a price), and then I’d have had to find my way back to the Firearms Office. All possible, but it would have taken a lot longer, and it would have cost me some money, without a doubt. As it was, I didn’t stress over it, and just left myself in good hands. Worth twice the price.

With all of that taken care of, John and I loaded up the Hi-lux, and headed north on the N-1. A great stretch of road, in excellent shape. We had to stop for gas, so at my request John stopped at a gas station which had a Steer restaurant, and I treated us to a couple of prime Steer burgers and fries. I highly recommend the fries.

We arrived at our destination – the home of Richard and Ruth Lemmer, who own Safari Afrika. When we arrived, Richard was out checking baits, but we were warmly welcomed by Ruth, who would be a constant presence over the next 12 days, cooking up a storm of good, wholesome food and, especially, some wonderful soups. We were also welcomed – after a brief introductory period – by Rex and Roxy, two large Rottweilers who have the run of the place during the day and who spend the nights outside, keeping a close eye on the property.

John and I got settled in to our very comfortable rooms, got changed, and headed out to check the guns. Both the .375 and the .300 were right on – the .375 dead on at 100 yards and the .300 1.5 inches high at the same distance. That would work well for our purposes.

We returned to the house, met Richard (who is a PH himself) and his assistant PH, Flippie. During a great dinner, John and Richard outlined the schedule to me. We would have breakfast at about 7.30 am, and then head out to check baits and trail cams. This would take us the whole morning. We would review the trail camera footage, which would allow us to decide where to sit that evening. Once that had been decided, we would return to the house for lunch and a nap, heading out again around 4 pm. We would then sit in a blind, until we got something, or we got tired of sitting – which would generally be around 10 or 11 pm or so. Once we left the blind, we would spotlight until around midnight or 1 am, returning to the house for a warm bowl of soup and bed. We’d follow this schedule until we had the animals that generally come to bait. If we were lucky enough to get those animals before the hunt was over, we’d forgo the blind sitting and focus on spotlighting for those animals which don’t come to bait.

All of those explanations out of the way, we headed out to introduce me to spotlighting, on Richard’s property. Richard has a great deal of game on his property – sable, nyala, impala, zebra and many wildebeest (some of the golden variety), in particular. He doesn’t generally hunt the large animals on his property, but he does hunt the small ones.

This leads to an interesting discussion of fenced vs. free ranging animals. We would be hunting on local farms, many, if not most, of which were also cattle farms. Some were high fenced, while some were low fenced. Some were as large as a few thousand hectares, while others were as small as a few hundred hectares. None of the nocturnal animals we were hunting could be kept enclosed by any type of fence, so the size of the places and the existence of fences of whatever variety were really irrelevant for our purposes.

As John and I got on the back of the truck, with Flippie driving, John explained the spotlighting drill to me. We would drive around the various properties, reasonably slowly, while John would shine the spotlight in a wide arc of about 280 degrees. If he spotted something, I was to get ready, because there wouldn’t be much time to shoot once he managed to identify the owner of the eyes he’d spotted. The more we drove, the more I came to see that this was likely to be far more difficult than I had thought. We did come across one animal – John said it was a civet – but I only saw the eyes, and then only briefly. In the tall grass, once the animal looked away, unless it was moving, it was almost impossible for me to see it.

Having seen nothing apart from the too-brief civet sighting, we returned home at about 11 pm. Tomorrow would be our first day of this 12 day hunt, and I was beginning to feel some trepidation. This was going to be interesting, and it was going to be a lot different from my previous hunts in South Africa.

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Welcome back Hank
Thanks. Is that avatar of yours a nocturnal specie?
Welcome back Hank. Looking forward to the rest of your report. I hope both you and Brickburn would consider the SCI Calgary banquet this Saturday April 30.
welcome home , hank
as usual you got me on the first few paragraphs
Great start Hank ! I am double interested in your report as I am also flying from Calgary to Frankfurt on my first safari next May.
Nice start. Great your back. Can't wait to read the rest of your report. Bruce
Sounds like a fun hunt Hank. Looking forward to the rest.
Cool... Let'R rip!!!! :D Pop Popcorn:
As it was, I was forced into booking a hunt. Not my fault at all.

Why do they all have such an issue understanding this????

Can't wait for the rest, as usual.
Welcome home and great report so far. Looking forward to the rest!
It's a shame when deals are too good you can't pass them up! Look forward to reading the conclusion!
Time for Volume 2. But don't get your hopes up, like I did. You'll only be disappointed. This is tough hunting!

Day 1 (April 9)

On Saturday, the first day of the hunt, we had breakfast and then headed out to check baits. We had some spare meat in the back of the truck to replenish any baits that might have been hit hard, and – memories of leopard hunting come to mind – a large plastic container of gut soup for dragging.

Richard had set up four bait sites, some fair distance apart on different properties. Each was unique in its own way. One was in an open field, two were on hills overlooking the baits below, while the fourth was in a heavily wooded area. Each bait was about 60-80 yards from the blind. Three of the blinds were of the “pop-up” variety familiar to deer hunters in the US, while the fourth was a wooden frame affair, covered in shelter cloth, but open to the sky. In this one, you had to stand up to see out of the blind and to shoot. All were fairly tight once occupied.


The "thick bush" bait


The "hillside" blind


The "open field" blind

We reviewed the trail camera footage, and saw that one bait – the one in the thick brush – had been visited by both bush pigs and hyena the night before. We replenished the bait, set up a microphone and a red light on a remote controlled rheostat, and decided we would sit at that bait that night. We then went back home for a lunch around 1, followed by nap time until about 3.30, and then headed out to the blind at around 4. John had made a set of shooting sticks that were about 3 feet tall, so that I could use them while sitting in a blind. Once we got to the blind, we slowly and quietly walked in, and set up the sticks, and our chairs.

I will say I wasn’t initially uncomfortable, but I will also admit that when I was younger, I was often accused, by teachers and parents, of being “fidgety.” Well, not much has changed over the years, and it quickly became apparent that sitting still wasn’t my strong suit. But I did my best.

At about 7 pm, when it was quite dark (the moon was waxing gibbous (a new term I learned!) but it didn’t seem to reach into the brush), I got the tap on the knee to tell me something was at the bait. My heart went from calm to near cardiac arrest in less than a second (funny how after all these years I still have that reaction), but I sat as still as I could, waiting for the next sign that I was to get the gun ready.

After a few moments, John whispered that he thought it was a leopard on the bait. Not sure what to do about this development, we let it go on for a bit. Even I, without an earpiece, could hear the bone crushing. Finally, John whispered that this might be a good opportunity to test my ability to see the animal with red light. He told me to get my gun ready, and to look through the scope, but not, under any circumstances, to shoot if it was in fact a leopard. He repeated that and asked me if I understood. I think John has hunted with me too long. He knows that if something gets in my sights, it’s usually not long for this world. I said I understood.

John then told me he would turn the light on, and I got ready. The red light came on, and sure enough, my crosshairs were quickly centered on the shoulder of a good-sized leopard. Not a monster, but definitely a shooter. And the leopard didn’t seem to care about the light. He (or she?) kept munching away on the zebra. I was quite taken with the scene, and happy to watch for a while. Until it occurred to me that so long as the leopard was on the bait, we might not see much else. I told John we had to get rid of this guy, and that I had an idea. He quickly whispered back “don’t shoot it!” Really? I was hurt. Of course I wasn’t going to shoot it. Well, maybe not of course, but I know the law, and we had no permit. I said “relax, I think you should try the white light and see what happens.” And so he did. A very bright (4,200 lumen!) light shone on the leopard. This got his attention, but didn’t seem to overly worry him. He looked in our direction, and then in a matter-of-fact way, got out of the tree and went into the night.

With that, we were back to sitting in the dark. A few hours later, John again tapped my knee, and said he thought this time it was bush pigs, because it sounded like there was more than one. But while I heard some noise close to our blind, they never came to the (corn) bait. We were not sure if they had seen the lights when the leopard was on the bait, or whether they didn’t like the scent of the leopard, or what the problem was, but they eventually left, and once again, we were left in the dark. Figuratively and literally.

I should add that I’d tried both of the illumination settings on my scope while looking at the leopard – day and night. Day was so bright that I immediately lost all night vision. Clearly, that was a non-starter, but then I sort of knew that. The night setting was perfect, and allowed me to put the red dot exactly where I needed it to be. With no illumination, I was stuck looking for black cross-hairs. If the white light was on the animal, and I had some time, that was not a real issue (although it still took some time to find the cross-hairs and place them in the right spot), but with the red light, it was just too dark looking through the scope to see the cross-hairs. Chalk one up for the illuminated reticle.

At about 10.30 after some six hours in the blind, we gave up and called for the truck. There then followed about two hours of spotlighting, but again, nothing. I did mention to John that this was the longest time we’d ever been on a hunt and not gotten an animal. I told him that I was just stating a fact, and that I wasn’t trying to put any pressure on him. It’s a good thing it was dark, because I sort of felt that he gave me a bit of a look.

And thus ended day 1 of our nocturnal hunt. I was starting to think this was going to be a tougher hunt than I’d expected. But lots of days left.
Funny how you want the leopard gone.

When I was in Zim and we'd baited for hyena one early morning we just had some stupid lions on the bait. Amazing to watch and yet I was in a way annoyed as that blew any chance of hyena.
That group of small cats is also on my wish list. Look forward to the rest of the report.
Funny how you want the leopard gone.

When I was in Zim and we'd baited for hyena one early morning we just had some stupid lions on the bait. Amazing to watch and yet I was in a way annoyed as that blew any chance of hyena.

Funny - I'd tried baiting for spotted hyena in Matetsi is Zim, and all we got was lions too!

Finally got one that came into a leopard bait before the leopard!
Looking forward to the rest ! Awesome report so far !
Sitting...... Still....... :E Zen:

Tougher than anyone thinks.

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