SOUTH AFRICA: Not Your Average African Hunt

Stocky

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April 2014 I once again awoke from the 16 hour Delta flight as we were making our approach to Johannesburg. Planning to make some real progress on my African 29 goal, I was pleasantly greeted by the familiar faces of Jacques Senekal of African Maximum Safaris and his ace PH Wernher ‘Walla’ Albertse and we headed off to overnight at his base camp in the Northwest Province near Swartruggens, R.S.A..

I should note early on that I am not your "average" R.S.A. hunter, although I started out that way. After recovering from a 5 year ordeal with a broken knee, once I could walk normally again following a replacement I made a plan to join SCI, hit a fundraiser to network with experience and see if I could get a deal on an RSA hunt at auction. It was simply a stroke of luck that I won Jacques' hunt and the following year (2013) I was off to his Woodstock Lodge just a couple hours northwest of Jo'burg.

At the Woodstock Lodge it's literally first-class all the way. Honestly, I'm more into the hunt itself than the accommodations so I admit that I don't pay attention to these things on a normal basis, as long as the rooms are comfortable, the food is decent and the company acceptable. After all, as a lifelong North American hunter I've found the accommodations on many guided hunts (and self-guided hunts) as "adequate-to-acceptable" as the hunting area warrants and sometimes this has meant sleeping in winter tents and wearing the same outerwear for days-on-end for the lack of laundry facilities, eating "mess hall" food prepared for a small army of hungry hunters, you know the drill.

To say I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement! Jacques and his lovely wife Natalie have enjoyed the same family cook for 40 years and the best way to describe the result is at least with four-stars, not to mention the fact that today's hunting clothes will be washed, neatly hung and/or folded and put away, awaiting your return to your bungalow or room when you return tomorrow. The accommodations are spacious, the bar well-stocked and the necessary fires lit and awaiting your enjoyment well before dinner.

When it comes to hunting or business it's best to stick with the winners as long as they keep delivering the goods, within reason that is. Sure, glitches are inevitable. It's how they are handled and the ultimate results that really matter. Does your outfitter push through them and make every effort humanly possible or do they respond with something like "That's why they call it hunting and not shooting." Poppycock! I'm here to hunt, not look over the same herd of animals for two weeks until I get desperate and shoot one "because we won't see anything better!"

Therein lies the difference. When you hunt with Jacques Senekal, if what you're looking for is not on his place, or the next, he has literally dozens of other properties at his disposal. If it's not on one of those properties, he'll find it! With Jacques and Walla I've hunted all of the Big Five and about four-dozen plains game species, the lion's share SCI Gold with several top tens in the mix. We did not accomplish this by hunting the same property, needless to say. Perhaps one of the nicest aspects is, if I am taking a friend, family member or colleague, much of this high-quality hunting is available right out of Woodstock Lodge as a base of operations.

But I am getting ahead of myself. That's why I've hunted with African Maximum Safaris with Walla as my PH since I began this quest, having been bitten by the African 29 bug on my very first safari. You may notice that I am a fairly selective hunter as I insist, with certain more obvious exceptions (like time, money and availability) that in my quest for the twenty-nine that every animal be special, whether it be the experience of the hunt itself or, at the bare minimum, qualify for the Safari Club Record Book and more often than not qualify for for the SCI Gold-level entry. With the wide variety of game being bred specifically for hunting in South Africa these days, the animals harvested should "make the book" whether we choose to list them or not, considering the time and money we as well as the biologists spend to get us there and hunt them. (Then again, I let immature whitetail walk as well.)

The next morning we began the 5 hour drive into the Kalahari Desert near the Botswana border in pursuit of a pair of felines - lion and caracal. Having two prior safaris and about 20 plains animals under my belt (the lower-hanging of the African fruit) including a Zim buffalo, it was time to get serious about collecting the specific animals required for the African 29. These cats were high on the list, and they could both be hunted on the edge of the Kalahari.

The Winking Simba


Jacques’ professional hunters had done their homework well, as by mid-morning the first hunting day we were hot on the trail of a monster; a thickly maned male lion. Being it was a rather chilly day, we were lucky enough to catch-up to him as he was laying out sunning himself in a clearing in the thornbush. Keeping the thorns between he and I, we eased in for a 30 yard shot with my new Barrett Ghost 410 Crossbow.

Thunk! The Slick Trick 150 grain broadhead on the 22” Easton FMJ aluminum sheathed carbon fiber shaft (540 gr. total weight arrow) started its 360 fps flight straight and true, completely penetrating the beast and kicking-up dust on the far-side, a perfect heart / lung shot. Nevertheless, with a loud roar Simba snapped at the pinprick to his shoulder and lunged off into the bush.

The next few minutes seemed like hours as we carefully circled through the bush looking for what we very much hoped was a dead lion. One of the Assistant PH’s was the first on the animal. He looked around a corner and there he was, laying in the grass looking very dead. One of the other PH's opened the bolt on his 458 Lott backup rifle and began high-fiving …

Not so fast.

Walla himself wanted a look. With me following right in his footsteps, we peeked around the bush at the cat when right at that moment Walla turns and whispers at me, “Your kitty cat just winked at you!” Sure enough the majestic beast was still breathing, trying to keep his eyes open to stare right back at us.

If this wasn't a reason to drag Walla along on these hunts I don't know what is. He saved the day and perhaps someone's life.

We circled wide and positioned ourselves off to one side of the nearly motionless, wounded animal as the trackers held his attention. I let a second bolt fly at about 10 paces broadside through the ribs thinking it was more of an insurance shot than anything else, noting the same outstanding arrow performance as the first shot. ROAR! He lept to his feet as he snapped at the wound, stumbled and fell dead in his tracks.

The Night We Saved Easter



Facing another long drive soon to the Northern Cape, immediately after skinning the lion and grabbing a bite the boys wanted to hit the desert at night to see if we could find the elusive caracal. Since it was explained that my one chance at these cats would likely be quick and often when they are on the run, I opted for my tack-driving .280 Ackley and left the bow in camp.

Often taken as an animal of opportunity, the caracal is commonly hunted at night much like the American coyote. Now, one doesn’t commonly take off on a caracal hunt planning to take an SCI Top 20 animal. Pretty much any cat of reasonable age and size will do not only because they are so rare and stealthy (think American bobcat), but also because one can hardly be an accurate judge of caracal cats under normal hunting conditions.

Since it was the night before Easter, when the spot lit-up a bunny we began joking that the Easter Bunny was already making his rounds. Being that we were only about 15 minutes into the hunt, we certainly didn’t expect what we were to see next… sure enough about 100 yards away was Mr. Caracal stalking our Easter Bunny! Up goes the sticks and “pop” goes the caracal, saving the Easter Bunny for children around the world to enjoy. The Top 20 score was simply a bonus!

The Heartless Lechwe



Since we “limited out” on cats the day before, we spent Easter Sunday 2014 making the 7 hour trek to a camp outside of Beverly in the Northern Cape where Philip, the farm manager and his wife explained as they helped us settle in that we were hitting his favorite bow blind at first light. On the menu for Monday were several targets of opportunity with the primary goal of harvesting a Top 10 SCI crossbow animal and completing my Springbok Slam (already having taken a common springbok) with the copper, black and white color phases. Philip explained this would be an excellent trophy springbok blind plus there was a big lechwe in the area that other hunters had missed or otherwise blown shots at. We planned to stay all day (in fact 3 days if we had to) without leaving the blind, hoping for a decent crossbow shot if necessary. He'd not only fill-in to the 29 nicely, but also score well up in the books with a crossbow.

Situating ourselves and our pee-bottles in the blind just before daybreak, it was a cool and crisp, but clear morning. Not 10 minutes into daylight I hear Walla whisper, “Cock that F**ker!” Peering through a crack in the backdoor, the SCI #2 Lechwe was standing right behind the blind, oblivious to our presence.

I have a system for manually cocking this ‘bow in under 5 seconds with no more noise than the flip of my Model 70 lever, I might add. (Reloads may take a few seconds more.) As the lechwe ram went to join the mama lechwe at the watering hole 20 yards in front of us, I loaded a bolt, put the ‘bow on the sticks, lined it up to the shooting slot in the blind and waited for the perfect broadhead shot. No way was this lechwe’s luck holding out today.

Thawack! Perfect heart shot! Expecting to watch him collapse in a pile of legs and fur any second, we watched in amazement as The Luckiest Lechwe of the Northern Cape bolted away full-speed. Right out of sight in fact. We called-in the trackers and awaited their arrival for the ride to the skinning shed - or so we believed.

More than an hour later we were still following blood, that is until there was none. UNBELIEVABLE! We had reviewed the video of the shot over and over again, a PERFECT HEART SHOT, no?!? Literally everyone that viewed it agreed. Yet no lechwe. So Walla and I decided to split-up, he and my nephew Rudi would go to the left, I and the tracker to the right. No blood, tracks merging with other fresh tracks, there was simply nothing left to follow. Not being one to let an animal get away wounded, we searched all morning for anything resembling the ram I had stuck with an arrow.

Suddenly I look up and there goes that unmistakable arch of ringed-horns bouncing above the tall grass not 50 yards away. No shot, so I stopped and watched him quietly walk into a small patch of the thick stuff as I planned my attack. Working my way within a dozen yards or so, the lechwe spots me as I rose above the reeds to let another Slick Trick loose and he began quartering away. Thunk - another arrow, a pretty decent lunger, angled-in but that damn lechwe didn’t seen to care one little bit. Off he went and another chase was on!

The tracker, having observed all this from a slight distance, lit out after the lechwe. All I could see through the grass was the top of the tracker’s head and those big, curved horns moving away at about the same speed. I tried to light-out after them, however finding it pretty much impossible to cock-and-run at the same time, I had to pause and reload and lost sight of them. It wouldn’t be 10 minutes before I caught-up, however.

As I moved ahead I saw my tracker literally jumping up and down, waving his arms at me and pointing to another briar patch. Mr. Lucky was in there. Moving in for the shot I was amazed to find the lechwe still standing. From no more than 2 or three paces, eyeball to eyeball with the luckiest lechwe on the planet, I put the finisher right on the point of the shoulder knuckle as he quartered-on staring me down. As it would turn out, that was the only bolt I have ever launched at a deer-sized animal that didn’t go all the way through, it shattered the knuckle bones and buried itself fletching-deep in his vitals. Any ‘normal’ animal would have dropped in his tracks. Hell, any ‘normal’ animal would have been dead an hour ago, if not from the first shot but certainly the second - both in the vitals. But not this guy. Nope, we’re now three-shots in, fresh out of arrows and this guy is still kicking.

When that broadhead hit this lechwe did something I’ve never seen before and likely will never see again - he let out what can only be described as a deep fog-horn blast, stood literally on his hind legs and jumped directly vertical to a height that must have been at least 10 feet above the ground, certainly well over the top of my 6’ head, and came crashing back to Earth in the same tracks he left it in, dead.

Hallelujah! The Heartless Lechwe made the trip to the shed with the trackers, we nimrods back to the blind to catch our breath and await another adventure.

The Springbok Slam



Three #1’s In-A-Row

The next two animals came to bag fairly easily - first a copper springbok then about an hour before dark his black cousin. I know this sounds easy but in reality, as Phillip were to remark when notified, he hadn't seen this big blackie in weeks. Luck was still with us!

In this last truck to get us came Philip with some news. He had been out working in a camp on the other side of the road we were hunting on and he spotted an outstanding white springy, just what we needed for the slam! (I have a prior common springbok.) If we hurried we could make it just before dark and perhaps work in for a shot.

Literally 15 minutes later there he was a couple hundred yards off. We debated taking him with the .280 Ackley for the sake of expedience, but Walla insisted we try to work our way in with the Barnett so off we went. We put on several quick stalks but Mr. White would simply get nervous even tough he couldn’t see us in the grass and move off another 100 yards every time we within range (sighted in at 40). The next stalk brought us to exactly 67 yards on the rangefinder, Mr White was getting nervous again and looking right at me this time when the sticks went up. It was this shot , now, or nothing.

As you are likely aware, arrows don’t fly like bullets. Watching that arrow arc in slow-motion, it was anyone’s guess as to the outcome. However it sailed true and we had a Springbok slam on the ground, three in-a-day plus the lechwe, two days after saving the Easter Bunny.

All three (copper, black and white) that day listed as #1’s in the SCI book with a crossbow. That’s four consecutive top tens today and counting…

The Only Crossbow Aoudad In The Books


New African hunters often remark that everything alive on the Dark Continent wants to either eat you, bite you or stick you, nowhere is this more evident than the Northern Cape. In fact, if you really need the exercise as well as a new layer of skin on your legs, I highly recommend you try your hand at one of the few resident herds of Barbary Sheep that reside there. If you’re really hard core, wear shorts.

One more thing about this region - the lava rocks that cover the entire slope of these mountains are like jagged little ball bearings. They rotate so their sharp edges are chewing at your soles with every step. So much so, in fact, that to this day you’re likely to find my hopelessly sticker-impregnated socks and a then-new pair of Under Armour hiking boots hanging in a tree by the Jeep trail at the base of a canyon.


Forget trying to pick the burrs out of your shoes and socks, you'll never get them all.

Now back to the sheep - after muffing a chip-shot with the .280 in the morning- retiring it for the ‘bow, after huffing those thorny, unstable canyons from pre-dawn to nearly dusk, we managed to cut-off the next-biggest sheep out of the one and only herd, 80 yards away at the head of a canyon. One shot later sighs of relief echoed off the rock faces, when we came to the realization that we didn’t have to do it all over again tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that. Like so many that came before us did.

The good news is, although we didn’t realize it at the time, turns out according to SCI this is the first and only African Aoudad, in fact the only Aoudad ever taken outside of North America, with a crossbow.

In case anyone’s interested, that’s four #1’s in the SCI book (plus the #2 lechwe) in two days.


Mountain Reedbuck

The next morning we planned to ply another nearby mountainous region to check another box off of my Africa 29 SCI award by locating and harvesting a decent mountain reedbuck. Philip had seem them earlier in the week haunting some of the steeper canyons, but unlike sheep country these cuts were lacking both the thick thorn brush as well at those little lava-rocks that had torn the soles right off my shoes a day earlier.

It didn’t take us long before we spotted a nice ram and took him with a cross-canyon shot with the .280 off the sticks.

Bontebok

The Fifth SCI #1 in Three Days

While we were in the springbok blind we had noticed a couple of nice bontebok that refused to come in - they were prancing about a few hundred yards off but apparently knew better than to risk a drink. So Walla being Walla, the landowner had full confidence in this team and allowed us to still-hunt his blind-only area to bag what he was sure would be another #1 method-rank in the SCI Record Book. It was.

The opportunity came at over 60 yards, but by then we were confident the Barnett had it in her. She did, and it was now time to focus on another Big Five critter - the hippopotamus. Literally translated ‘river horse’ the particular animals we were preparing to hunt was a renegade pair that had given-up their relaxing nature preserve lifestyles for a life on the lam by escaping their boundaries and taking refuse in the neighboring farms and villages. Literally at the other side of the country, it was decided we would return to Jacques main camp to drop off my salted capes, overnight and light-out in the morning for the Limpopo hippos.

Upon arrival, however we were greeted with some disappointing news - the hippos had again vanished. Until they showed up once again we determined to hunt one of Jacques’ newer hunting areas in the center of 30-plus thousand acre wildlife management area that only Africa Maximum clients were allowed to hunt in - and then only with the direct supervision of the Preserve Manager himself.


Two-Fer Tsessebe


(Those AccuBonds Sure Do Penetrate)

In case anyone has been wondering if .284 160 Nosler AccuBond bullets penetrate well, lets put that to rest. They do. They’ll shoot clean through two large male tsessebe (and drop them both in their tracks) as you can see in the photo above. Oops.

Check another box on my 29…(At least they both made the book.)

Hippopo In Limpopo


4000 lb. Animals CAN Disappear - you just have to be ready when the reappear.

While we were playing dominos with the tsessebe, the call came in to Jacques that the hippo he had his eye on, a renegade pair that had to be put down for wreaking havoc on some locals in the Limpopo, had been spotted cooling themselves next to a maze farmer's irrigation dam after disappearing for days. Off we went to see the farmer.

I know, it sounds easy, right? With the luck we’ve been having on this hunt, why we’d drive right up there, shoot the hippo and be home in time for dinner, right? Nope. Those Limpopo farmers put their dams in the damnedest places, this one turned the whole area into a swamp. As in crocodiles. And now hippo. Hunting there was not a lot different than hunting the Everglades, minus the airboat, of course. After a day of slogging around the cattails in my Danner’s (the second pair this trip you may recall) and seeing little more than hundreds of pepper ticks (most of which were spotted crawling on my arm and up my legs), the river horses had disappeared again.

By this time the farmer and I had become fast friends, so he made a number of calls that evening but to no avail. The next morning one of the locals told him he spotted them back in the pond, but this time we had out pathways tromped-in so we were able to operate much more stealthily. It paid off early - four .375 300 Barnes later (those PH’s do like to keep their clients shooting, to be safe) all we had to was to wait the hour or two it takes a hippo to float back up to the surface and let the boys haul him out.

Bushpig In The Maze


I’m told most bushpigs are shot over bait at night. Not this one.

While the boys were busy hippo-diving to claim their White Hunter’s prize, my new friend, the farmer, mentioned that he heard I wanted a bushpig. He told me his farm was crawling with them - they hung-out in the maze fields and ate a huge percentage of his crops every year. He asked me, as long as I was there, if I’d mind if his boy took me out to help him out with this problem. In fact, he said, he has a shoot-on-sight order for every bush pig on the property, and he’d appreciate it if I took his new Remington R25 .243 semi-auto (in lieu of the slower M70 .375) and did some real damage to the pig population. He made me promise not to spare any ammo.

We had a ball, and I got to keep the biggest male (a Top 30) for mounting plus file two more notches in my belt toward the African 29 award.

Thus ended one of the best, most productive safaris ever - 10 trophies for the wall with 50% of them SCI Firsts and two more SCI Seconds! But please stay tuned ... we're only half-way done! Walla and I team up with Lee J. Hoots and Abrie Arlow on an Africa Maximum Safari for rhino, reedbuck, wildebeest, red and gray duiker (plus a bonus suni?) as we scour the Eastern Cape in June 2014 for more SCI records - still in pursuit of the 29, next.
 
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enysse

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Thanks for the hunt report and pictures. Hunting with a crossbow added to the challenge for sure.
 

Nyati

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Congrats for a fantastic hunt, and thanks for sharing !
 

BRICKBURN

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That list is getting pretty damned short.

Congrats on a fun hunt.

thanks for posting your report. (s)
 

Wheels

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Stocky,

You are correct, this isn't the average RSA hunt.

Looking forward to more.
 

buchnerl

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@Stocky congratulations on what seemed to be one hell of a great hunt! You have beautiful pictures and magnificent trophies, now to get them all home!!!
 

hunting4sanity

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WOW! Great adventure and photos to back it all up. Looking forward to more of the hunt. Congratulations!
 

rinehart0050

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Awesome report. Can't wait for the next one!
 

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