SOUTH AFRICA: Second Plains Game Safari With Cheetau Safaris

Goose Cracker

AH enthusiast
Aug 9, 2012
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NRA Life Member, SCI Life Member, DSC, BASC, BDS
USA: AL, CO, GA, FL, SC, SD, WI, WY, Limpopo SA, North West SA, England, Saskatchewan
Outfitter and PH: Cheetau Safaris, Werner and Carmen van der Walt. Second time hunting with Cheetau and my second time in Africa.

Dates: Arrive JNB on 28 May 2019; depart 8 June 2019 – Delta Air Lines 200/201 direct from ATL. 11 days hunting, 12 nights

Country and area: Limpopo, South Africa

Concessions: Blinkwater Game Farm (primary concession and lodging), mountain concession near Lephalale (50 mins from lodge), third concession near Combretum Park, Modimolle (75 mins from lodge). These were different concessions/lodge than when I hunted with Cheetau in 2017 – and I was aware of this well before the hunt. They sent GPS coordinates for me to check everything months prior to arrival – since they know I like to do a bit of “Google Earth scounting”

Lodge: The lodge was very comfortable and well equipped. Looks like the built half the lodge out of reclaimed wood of all kinds – very cool. I think it can accommodate 8 folks total, so on the smaller side of many SA lodges. Had a Jacuzzi that we used almost every day, a terrific braai/fire pit area (on the deck but not enclosed, so I don’t think it’s technically a boma), a nice bar area, inside and outside dining areas, a lovely infinity pool, and a spacious sitting area with HD projector where we watched world cup cricket after lunch. I found that cricket is even better than NASCAR for afternoon naps. BTW, the South African cricket team is rubbish this year if anyone asks.

There was also a tented camp just down from the lodge about 500 yards. It was very nice also – with in-room bathrooms/bathtubs and community showers, a nice boma, dining tent, and a kitchen.

Equipment: CZ 550 FS in 6.5x55 with Nikon Monarch 3 4-16x50 shooting 140g A-Frame handloads at 2650 fps; Nosler M48 in 35 Whelen with Vortex Viper LS 4-16x50 shooting factory Federal 225g TBBC; Vortex rangefinder, Meopta MeoPro HD 10x32 binos. PH used Primos Jim Shockey Trigger Stick tripod and Leica binos with built-in rangefinder. I’d ordered a set of Viper-flex quad sticks after using them in the UK, but they didn’t arrive in time for me to take to Africa.

Weather: While I was there it didn’t rain a drop. Hadn’t rained in some time as I was told. Lows were between 34F and 42F each day, while highs were between 65F and 78F. I wore shorts/gaiters hunting every day, but wore a tee shirt, Cabelas long sleeve safari shirt, fleece vest, soft-shell jackets and skully/warm gloves each morning. It was chilly on the back of the bakkie!

Primary targets: Nyala, impala, mountain reedbuck, klipspringer, bushbuck, warthog, duiker. A bit of an odd list perhaps, and “not an easy one” as my PH let me know

Animals taken: Nyala, impala, klipspringer, bushbuck, eland, hartebeest

Overall experience: Excellent, would highly recommend Cheetau if you are looking for personal attention from a small outfitter in SA. I was the only client in camp for the entire 11 days/12 nights I was there and had the whole place to myself. I strongly prefer the smaller outfits with only one or two groups in camp at a time. I didn’t mind driving to the other concessions – it was kind of nice to see the area, hunt on different farms in different terrain, and the braai lunches in the bush are enjoyable.

Lodge 1.jpg
Lodge 2.jpg
Lodge 3.jpg
Lodge 4.jpg
I prefer hunting on foot and Cheetau was very accommodating. My goal is to get as close as possible to the animals – I’m not a long-range hunting guy. On a slow day (when hunting from the blinds primarily), we’d do 3 miles. Routinely we’d do 6 miles. Record was over 10 miles in one day on this trip. That’s the way I like it – but I don’t mind blind hunting either, as a change of pace. In 11 hunting days, we sat in a blind 3 times. Twice on the mountain concession looking for bushbuck and reedbuck, and once on the lodge concession looking for a big pig.

Just to be different, I’ll arrange this report around the animals themselves rather than a chronological account.

Mtn Concession.jpg
Nyala. First animal on my list. There was a particular old bull with a broken horn and torn ears that had been seen several weeks before my hunt. Carmen and Werner know how much I like old animals and character and don’t really care *that much* about trophy size, so they knew this bull was perfect for me. Out after him immediately after checking the rifles on day one. No sign of him where they’d seen him previously and we’re out all day looking. But the farm manager called very late in the afternoon to say he was just seen in a block near the lodge by one of the farm hands. We drive to the lodge, get off the truck and start stalking. He’s fairly quickly located, in the block just as we’d been told. We get set up and wait for him to walk into the clear. One shot from my Nosler 35 Whelen and he’s down. Really cool animal. Pics don’t really do him justice. First animal down late at the end of my first day hunting. It’s pretty dark by the time we’re done with pictures, so it’s time for our first sundowner around the fire. I’m doing a shoulder mount for my nyala – Dennis from Artistry of Wildlife is doing my nyala shoulder mount.

Impala. We hunted impala for a number of days on each of the three concessions. Despite what I just said about not caring that much about trophy size, I was after a big, mature impala this time around. Chased a nice group of bachelor males on the main concession a number of times, never got a shot. Found a big ram with a group of ewes, chased them around for an afternoon, never got a shot. Was actually chasing the same group around my last afternoon of my hunt after I’d already taken my impala – that’s how good this particular ram was. Saw a lone ram on day 6 of my 11 days hunting while out looking for pigs in an open area of the main concession. We made a plan, got into the bush behind him and into the wind and stalked to edge of the clearing. Go-away bird busted us, but caused him walk straight to us – frontal, quartering shot but at only 50 or so yards, so I took it with my CZ 550 FS in 6.5x55. Located about 50 yards away stone dead. Very nice ram, but a little smaller than I was hoping to get based on some others we’d seen. Hit him a little farther right than where I’d aimed and since I’d missed a duiker with this rifle a couple days earlier we headed to the range to check it out. Was shooting about 2” high and 2” right. Ugh. A few adjustments and we’re back in business. Africa is hard on equipment, and banging around the mountain concession was very rough going. Guessing that’s where the rifle got knocked off. Day 6 of my hunt was also the day we did 10.2 miles.

Mountain reedbuck. Hunted the mountain concession a couple days for mountain reedbuck, saw several ewes but only one ram very briefly. This mountain concession was very rugged and thick. Decided to try a blind over water – farm manager had trail cam pics of a good bushbuck and a good mountain reedbuck coming to drink just after lunchtime. Sat the blind two days – killed my bushbuck on the first day in the blind (second day on this concession), and when we were getting out of the blind to recover my bushbuck the reedbucks were behind us about 40 yards. Sat the blind again for reedbuck, but never saw one. Did see duiker, impala, kudu, blue wildebeest, more bushbuck, and a very cool eagle from that blind. Decided after my bushbuck and nyala to focus on eland instead of reedbuck to complete my spiral slam. Reedbuck will be a future quarry for me.
Klipspringer. While we were hunting mountain reedbuck, we also were hunting klippy. Did I mention that the mountain concession was rough? Spotted a number of klippy, off the truck to chase, they disappear, back on the truck, etc. Do this a few times. Finally spot a couple towards the bottom of a very steep ridge near a creek with a little water in it. We stand there glassing for a while, finally an ear wiggle and we’ve found them again. Work hard to find a good spot to watch them and get the sticks set up. There’s a small window to his shoulder but I can’t see his head and a female is right in front of him. Waiting game. Finally, guessing 20 minutes after I’m first on the sticks the female moves. Now she’s right behind him. Argh. Then a couple seconds later she moves again and he’s still standing in the same spot. I squeeze one through the window I have to his shoulder with the CZ 6.5x55 and he’s down. Shot was only about 75 yards. 140 grain A-Frame did a little more damage behind the offside shoulder than I’d have guessed, but I’m doing a shoulder mount so not to worry. My PH is thrilled that we have a klippy on day one at the mountain concession. He’s a beautiful little guy, and we take quick pictures then race back to the skinning shed to get him caped out. Apparently klippies are really notorious for hair slippage – they have this neat hollow fur, similar to a pronghorn but much finer and softer. Second animal down on day two of my hunt.

I’ve decided to do shoulder mounts for each of my tiny ten, and Dennis from AoW has something nice planned for me. We’ll keep adding to the display as I make my way through the tiny ten. TBC.

Bushbuck. Bushbuck was arguably the easiest hunt for me during this trip. We never saw them from the truck or while stalking, but on the first day in the blind at the mountain concession, a great bushbuck came to drink within 30 minutes of when the farm manager said he would. As mentioned, this waterhole had a camera on it for a few weeks before we arrived and so the farm manager knew what was coming in here and when. We’d seen the ewes come to drink before him and they came in from our right, not behind us. He came in from behind us, and it took me a while to position myself to get a good shot – which was nerve-wracking. I also only pushed my CZ safety to the first position, which as those of you who know 550s will note is not “fire” (as with all three-position safeties, it allows the bolt to operate on safe). So, after that admittedly jerky trigger pull I collected myself and made a good shot. He was quartering away at ab out a 45 degree angle, so I aimed a bit back for an exit in front of his off-side shoulder. At the shot he lept at least 4 feet in the air and tore off. We heard him crash almost immediately. It was a good shot and had exited exactly where I wanted it to – and it was obvious that the bullet hit his heart on its way through. Really nice bushbuck. Very pleased. Third animal down on day three – we’re off to a great start. But this was when things got more difficult for us.

I’m doing a European and a flat skin for my bushbuck, just like I do for virtually everything in Africa. There are a few exceptions (tiny ten, my nyala), but I love the look of Europeans and there are so many things you can do with the skins. Also, I don’t have a ton of room for shoulder mounts. My outfitter/PH and I had this discussion two years ago, and while he and I don’t necessarily agree on Europeans we came to an agreement (the client is always right). He asks if I’m sure I want a European for this buskbuck, he’s a really nice one – and yes, I’m sure I want a European. My PH calls our tracker/skinner who was off helping skin a giraffe all day to come and collect us and the bushbuck. As he’s getting in the truck my PH tells him we’re doing a skull and flat skin. The tracker says something in Afrikkans to my PH, which elicits a wide grin. “Okay, what did Taksue say” I ask. “He says that bushbuck deserves better than a skull and flat skin.”

Warthog. Warthog was on my list for my first trip to SA in 2017 and I didn’t connect. Saw a couple dandies, but I went in the early season and the grass was high and thick. By the time we saw the pigs they had seen us and were off. All you could see was the tip of the tail as they scampered out of sight. Saw loads of females and young pigs the first time around, and we had hunted them hard for 3 or 4 days. This time around sadly was a repeat of my experience in 2017. Saw a huge sow, but I didn’t want to shoot a sow. Saw load of pigs including a couple good ones. Just never got a shot. My PH even baited a spot for a number of days for me – near a wallow where we’d seen pigs a number of times. Dug out a spot, filled it with rocks, and added some corn. Put a trail camera over it. Sat over the wallow/bait one afternoon and watched a nice sow come in, toss the rocks out of the bait spot like they were nothing, then have a snack. Blue wildebeest were hanging out nearby, and must have heard her throwing the rocks around – they took that as a dinner bell and headed in for an afternoon meal. After a fairly tense standoff, the sow won. Was a really enjoyable scene to watch develop. Sadly nothing worth shooting showed up and that wrapped another trip with no big pig for me.

Pig blind.jpg
Duiker. We hunted duiker fairly hard – including four nights after dinner while we were out looking for jackal. Saw lots of animals, but mostly females and smaller rams. I was looking for one with horns above his ears – I know, I said I didn’t care about trophy size but I don’t know how else to age/judge a duiker ram. I saw one really good duiker in the 11 days I hunted, and it was late one afternoon while we were out stalking pigs on the main concession. It was a broadside 148 yard shot and I stone cold missed. It turned out later that the rifle was shooting high and right (which is where my PH said I missed him) after being bounced around the mountain concession for three days. But the fact remains – I got a great shot opportunity on the best duiker we saw all week and I couldn’t seal the deal. Frustrating. Duiker will be on my list again – I fell in love with the tiny ten on my first trip in 2017 when I shot a terrific steenbok. At the rate I’m going (one each safari) I’ll complete my tiny ten slam sometime in the 2030’s. Of course given my luck with warthogs, I may finish my tiny ten slam before I close the deal on a big pig, so…
Eland. So eland wasn’t on my original list for 2019. But after my nyala and my bushbuck, my PH brought it up. One of the concessions we were going to hunt has terrific eland and hartebeest I’m told. And at prices that are pretty attractive. So, now eland and hartebeest are on the list. We headed to this third concession on days 7, 8, and 9 of my hunt. The farm owner’s kid, a really terrific 19 year-old on break from his second year at college is our driver. Just a super young man – down to earth, strong as an ox but smart as a whip farm boy. Knew the hunting property inside and out. Both my sons would love this kid. As we’re recovering my eland we get a flat and he was instrumental in changing the tire. I end up leaving him a separate gratuity and we’re now connected on WhatsApp. I got the chance to tell his dad what a great kid he is as we’re headed out after our third day hunting this farm – “that’s a hell of a great kid you’ve got there,” I tell him. “Heck of a reflection of the job his parents did.” I think I saw him blush a little.

Anyway, we were out looking for eland right out of the gate, but as luck would have it we found the hartebeest first. We saw lots of eland cows and several small bulls but didn’t see the group of 7-8 bulls that the farm owner told us were there on our first day on this concession – we didn’t actually find them until very late on our second day. They were in a very thick area that wouldn’t allow a decent shot even if we could identify the biggest bull, so we made a plan to try to push them a bit. Got up wind of them and started walking. Finally after 90 mins or so of this we could identify the biggest bull and several of them wandered towards a semi-open area. But there was always a smaller bull in the way – so no good shot presented itself. The one clear shot I had was with him facing directly towards me at 160 yards. I wasn’t comfortable with that shot, so our second day hunting eland came to naught.

This farm had a couple permanent ponds (spring fed I believe) that survive the dry season. There was a lovely little shaded braai spot near one of the ponds where we enjoyed lunch twice. Apparently this is a favorite braai spot of the farm owner as well. We checked this spot for pigs several times each day but only saw smaller pigs.

On day three, as we’re headed to hunt eland again the farm manager called to say they’d seen the bachelor group early that morning and dropped off a ranch hand to shadow them. When we arrived we headed straight to the area of the farm where they’d been seen. We found the ranch hand and he indicated the general direction of the bulls; you couldn’t see them from his vantage point. I should note that this farm suffered a large fire about 10 years ago and had chest high sweetgrass and dead trees over a fairly wide area – which was so high and think even the eland bulls could disappear. We set up along a two-track we believed they’d cross moving from the sweetgrass block into a thicker block of bush. We hadn’t even made it off the truck when we saw the first bull cross the two-track – and the last bull across was our guy. Much larger than the other bulls in the group. We quickly got on the sticks and my PH whistled to get his attention – he was almost across the two-track at this point, about 75 yards away. He turned to look at us and I had a window behind his shoulder that was angled in front of his offside shoulder. I squeezed the trigger on my Nolser 35 Whelen then heard that comforting “thwack” that indicates a hit. But as I replayed the shot in my head, I’d swear he moved just as I was squeezing the trigger. My PH seemed happy with the shot and we found blood immediately. Then we start following the blood trail and see him 100 yards away hobbling but almost keeping up with the other bulls. Dammit. Double dammit. Argh! Nothing I hate more than wounding an animal with a marginal shot. After a hellova chase through some very thick bush and three more shots he finally gave up the ghost. Turns out he did look away as I was firing and my shot was about 1.5 inches too far forward – creating a long gash behind his shoulder and only got a piece of one lung. Second shot was weaved through lots of trees and brush at about 70 yards into what I thought was his shoulder – it wasn’t, he was pointed left when I thought he was pointed right. Dammit dammit. After I figured out which end was which (did I mention it was thick?) his shoulder was covered by a tree – so I squeezed one into his neck, which spined him and put him down. Final shot was to end it as quickly and mercifully as possible. Tough old fighter, gorgeous old bull. The skinner recovered two of the 225 grain TBBCs. Both were perfect mushrooms. It certainly wasn’t the equipment, it was the operator! I’m doing a European and a full flat skin. No idea where the flat skin is going to go yet, but I’m glad I had that discussion with my LSW before I left about incorporating more taxidermy into her interior designs.

Eland 2.jpg
Eland 3.jpg
Red hartebeest. We found a group of hartebeest fairly early on the first morning of our hunt at the third concession. All cows, however. The second group we found was later in the morning in a large open area. We chased them around for a while trying to find a good bull and get a shot. After several unsuccessful stalks we see them crossing a wide open grassy area and see a good bull. We stalk around into position and I get my Nosler 25 Whelen set up on the sticks. I find the bull in my scope, confirm with my PH that we’re looking at the same animal, and settle in on his shoulder. My last thought as I’m squeezing the trigger is “smooth and follow-through.” At the shot, I don’t hear the sound I’m after. As I look up from an exaggerated follow-through I see him trotting off, clearly not hit. “Did I miss?” I ask, something exasperated. “Yes, low I think” comes the answer. “How far was he?” is my next question. “180 yards.” “Son of a bitch, I thought he was closer – no wonder I missed.” We take off in pursuit just to confirm that he wasn’t hit, and he isn’t – not a drop of blood and he’s right in with all the cows, unscathed. My Nosler sports a Vortex with the excellent BDC reticle. This rifle is zeroed dead on at 100 yards – which means the first hash of the BDC is 183 yards with this 35 Whelen load. I was holding dead on – so the first hash would have been right at the bottom of his body – thank goodness I didn’t hit him that low. So, completely my fault for not confirming how far he was before I pulled the trigger. Lesson learned, and of course it’s the hard way. Still, I’m relieved it didn’t lead to a wounded animal. But now my confidence is a bit shaken – I’d already missed the duiker with my 6.5x55 several days earlier. Let’s just say I’m a bit quiet during lunch and I’m replaying everything over and over again in my head.

After a leisurely braai lunch of impala sausage, kudu sausage, and grilled cheese sandwiches on homemade bread under the shade trees near the pond, we’re back on the bakkie and headed out. About 90 minutes into the afternoon hunt we’ve located the hartebeest herd again and they’re pretty calm but over 400 yards away. We’re off the truck and working our way closer when they start to file away at an angle, led by the cows. They are about 150 yards away and walking leisurely, generally unaware of us. The last animal to file along is a bull – and a good one at that. I’m on the sticks, my PH tells me he’s 140 yards away, I hold for the middle of his near shoulder midway between my 100 yard crosshair and 183 yard first hashmark and wait for him to stop, which he does momentarily. I squeeze the trigger. He’s down right there, in the two track across from us. It was a really good shot, on the near-side shoulder and out in front of the offside shoulder through his heart. As we’re approaching the downed bull, I ask if he’s the same bull I missed earlier. “Not even close – this bull is much bigger than this morning.” He’s thick, and pretty long also – with a gorgeous coat and dark face. Everyone seems very excited about this bull, from my outfitter/PH, to our driver, to our tracker. Another European and a flat skin.

Hartebeest 1.jpg
Hartebeest 2.jpg
Hartebeest 3.jpg
Final thoughts:

After a nasty episode with pepper ticks in 2017, I’d treated my socks, safari shirts, and the inside of my canvas gaiters with Sawyer Permethrin spray and that was key. Not a single bug issue while my PH complained of pepper tick challenges several times. I didn’t even use bug spray while I was there. I left my travel sized Sawyer picaridin insect repellent with my PH.

I wish I’d had my Viperflex quad sticks. While I’d practiced a lot off the same sticks my PH uses, there’s just no comparison of the stability of the quad sticks versus a tri-pod. Yes, they take longer to set up and are a bit of a pain, but I’d rather miss shot opportunities than wound an animal. Would that have mattered on this trip? Probably not – the duiker I missed likely was due to the gun being knocked around the mountain concession and not the sticks. The hartebeest miss was because I underestimated the range and didn’t compensate. And the poor first shot on my eland likely was timing – he moved just as I was pulling the trigger. My nyala, bushbuck, impala, klippy, and the second hartebeest were each well-placed, one-shot kills. But the quad sticks would have helped my confidence, and confidence is key to good shooting for me. But the bottom-line is whatever you are using in the field, practice until you are confident, then practice some more. Did I mention practice off sticks?

The duty free shop at the international terminal (Terminal F) in Atlanta is pretty nice. I purchased some CAO cigars and a liter of Woodford Rye to take with me. While beer and wine is very inexpensive in SA, American brown liquor not so much. I think a liter of distilled spirits is all you can bring into SA duty free. Both were enjoyed thoroughly around the fire after dinner. By the way, if you are a red wine drinker, some of the SA pinotages are really tasty and incredible values. The pinotage grape is native to SA – it’s a cross bred grape from pinot noir and cinsaut grapes grown in SA for almost 100 years.

I also collect handmade smoking pipes; have about 60 of them. Africa just seems like a place suitable for a nice bowlful of tobacco around the campfire. Maybe it’s the Wally Johnson stories or from some other book I read. Can't really say. But I took two pipes with me this year – both straight billiards. A smooth American Smoking Pipe Company billiard from Mark Tinsky (Montana) that was made in 1998 and a canted, sandblasted billiard from Paul Bonacquisti (New York) made in 2001. Smoked several bowls from a tin of Cornell & Diehl’s Solace that is over 15 years old – and delicious.

Fed 35 Whelen 225g TBBC Eland Bull.jpg

What a grand adventure! I’m really enjoying your tale including the oops that happen to all of us!
Congratulations on some very handsome trophies!
Looks like you had a great hunt. Some nice trophies. Great eland as well as bushbuck. Congrats.
Looks like a great time! Congrats and thanks for sharing!
Congratulations on some nice trophies and hunting them the way you wanted.
Just found this report..........what a great hunt you had! You have some very nice trophies there.....I especially like the eland and the Nyala.........................well done..........................FWB
Thank you for a great report and nice easy read. Some fine animals taken, Congrats.

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in-between all the bush fire, hunting and work on the hunting area its hard to find time for fishing as well
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is the 505 gibbs still for sell? Thanks!
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I ran across a message from you a couple of years ago while I was going through old emails. I have arranged a second bison hunt in Nebraska in September 2024, about 6-years after the first, when my supply of bison meat was exhausted. My email is [redacted].
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If those Schells rings fare still available, I could use them. I'm willing to pay for the shipping.
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Leupold VX-5HD 3-15x44 FireDot Duplex Riflescope. I am looking at this scope for a couple new rifles. Cost?