ZAMBIA: Ntengu Safaris Hunt Report

Scott CWO

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I am on my way home from my latest safari adventure and thought I would use my flight time to file a report. It’s a great way to make time on the long flights go a bit faster as well.

Planning

Several years ago, I decided to look for a safari in Zambia to add to my collection of free-range plains game species and small cats. Why Zambia, you say? Well, Zambia has a unique combination of species that overlap and some others that are only found in Zambia. For example, I believe Zambia is the only country where you can hunt free-range red lechwe, black lechwe and Kafue lechwe, although transfers by charter aircraft are required to get all three in three different areas. Sitatunga, puku, yellow-backed duiker, Crawshay defassa waterbuck and roan were also on my list and available in parts of Zambia. Although I already have a nice 39” sable from my 2014 trip with Safaris de Mocambique, Zambia is well known for really big sable so I could possibly upgrade my sable as well. Sable are so dang beautiful!

I reached out to several safari companies but I was having some difficulty in finding a company that offered everything I was looking for in Zambia. So I reached out to a friend on the ground in Zambia. That friend, Mike Taylor, of the Takeri Private Reserve is well-known on this website as @spike.t and a great guy. Mike and I had first started corresponding several years ago after we had both hunted with another friend, the late Jamie Wilson, in R3 in the Niassa Reserve in northern Mozambique. Jamie’s untimely death, in a way, connected Mike and I and we’ve kept in touch ever since.

Initially, I asked Mike if he had all the species I was looking for at Takeri but he did not. I asked Mike if he could offer any suggestions. He said he would think about it and get back to me. Later, he told me he had talked to the Carlo Cuturi family that leased the hunting rights on the Kansonso Busanga and Lunda Busanga safari areas bordering Kafue National Park and that they could sort out a safari for me for everything I was looking for. I learned that their two areas are the only areas in Zambia with free-range red lechwe on quota. In addition, these areas have sitatunga, roan, huge sable, puku, Crawshay defassa waterbuck, a few yellow-backed duiker, serval and many other species such as Lichtenstein hartebeest, wildebeest, blue duiker, common duiker, warthog, lion, leppard, crocodile, hippo, buffalo, etc… on quota.

Mike put me in touch with the Cuturi’s managing PH for Ntengu Safaris, Federico (Fico) Vidale. Fico and I later worked out a deal for a 16-day safari in late July and August. I owe Mike a debt of gratitude for helping me contact the right people

The Itinerary

Fico suggested we start in Kansonso Busanga and Lunda Busanga July 28th - August 11th for 15 days for sitatunga, red lechwe, puku, roan, sable, waterbuck, serval, yellow-backed duiker, bushbuck, hyaena, and possibly a buffalo, if we had time. We then would charter up to the Bangweulu Swamp for a one-day black lechwe hunt on August 12th and then charter that evening to Lusaka. From Lusaka, we would drive out 3.5 hours to the Kafue Swamp on the next day for Kafue lechwe on August 13th before flying home on August 14th.

Travel

I decided to take my parents from South Dakota on this safari as a gift to them and as a thank you for everything they have done for me. They are 79 years-old and have done a lot of traveling but never to Africa. I left Denver on July 25th on American Airlines and met up with my parents at DFW for our business class Qatar Airways flights to Doha and then to Lusaka. I reclaimed my bags/rifle at DFW and rechecked them with QA, as required. It was a bit of a hassle but no big deal. QA makes sure that firearms always make the flights, so that’s worth the hassle and extra steps to me. The QSuites with lay-down seats were really great on my Botswana trip last year and I decided to book them again this year. After the 15-hour flight to Doha, I showered at the QA lounge and then we ate a free dinner. The lounge and airport in Doha are awesome.

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Our next flight from Doha to Lusaka was also nice and we arrived in Lusaka about 9:30am on July 27th. After doing the gun inspection, Fico’s assistant, Rene, took us to the charter flight office for our flight to the Lushimba Camp in Kansonso Busanga. The pilot was great and so was the scenery.

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After lunch and a nap, we checked the zero on my two rifles and after one shot from each, everything was good so we went for a game drive before returning to camp for dinner. We saw a lot of game!

Area and Camp

The Cuturi family owns several businesses in Zambia with their main business being supplying heavy equipment to the copper mines. They also own farms and sell maize, soya and chickens. They have conducted the most aggressive anti-poaching program in Zambia with boots on the ground and a helicopter patrolling every day to the tune of a $250k helicopter budget per year. In addition, besides paying the local community fees, they also provide maize and soya to the community. Nobody does more. The results in seven years have been dramatic. Lots of wildlife!
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Helicopter hangers.

The Cuturi’s also constructed a very nice camp in the middle of nowhere with a great dining shelter, several chalets, safari tents, offices, and outbuildings. The camp is solar powered with generator backup. They also have a water filtration system that is impressive.

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The Kansonso Busanga and Lunda Busanga areas border Kafue NP one the park’s west side and north side. I hunted Kasonso for most of the trip and Lunda for one day. Later, we chartered to the Bangweulu Swamp and later drove to Kafue Flats from Lusaka on the last day. There are thousands of lechwe so it’s a one-day hunt for lechwe. Please see attached maps. On the Zambia map, I circled the three areas hunted. On the Kansonso/Lunda map, I’ve circled the camps and drawn in a dividing line between the two hunting areas/blocks. Kansonso and Lunda each have their own quota of animals and separate lease contracts. The Kansonso contract is up for renewal for next year and the Lunda contract has six more years remaining.

C6456ECA-F638-452D-B1EC-FBDCE337A92F.jpeg
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The terrain is incredibly diverse with everything from thick forest to giant wide-open plains to big swamps, which explains why there are so many different and unique species. The area has a lot of permanent water sources. Fico and the crew had done a great job of burning well before my safari so there were a lot of areas with new green grass to attract the animals. The openness of many areas makes for some longer shots than experienced on most other African safaris.


A98E7E1B-68E7-40EF-A480-6C9500DD3F87.jpeg

FA0C0054-07C9-4723-9C09-E297688ECB83.jpeg



It’s 2:15am now on my first seven hour flight to Doha from Lusaka. I will get to the hunting part of the adventure after getting some sleep. More to come!
 
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Buck51

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Sounds like a helluva adventure! Ready to read some more.
 

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Looking forward to the rest of this report. Sounds epic already.
Bruce
 

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Outstanding start Scott, looking forward to following the report.
 

Scott CWO

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Gear I Brought and Recommended Changes Having Been There

I brought two rifles. Some shots can be long so I sent Fico a list of my rifles for him to consider. On the list was .458 Lott, .375 H& H, .338 WM, .300 WSM and 6.5 GAP SAUM. He has a 6.5 Creedmoor and likes it for the smaller antelopes so he suggested the 6.5 GAP SAUM (a .300 SAUM necked down to 6.5) shooting 140 grain Berger Hybrids and the .375 H& H shooting 300 grain Swift A-frames. I told him that my 6.5 usually wears a suppressor and since I would not be allowed to bring the suppressor that the rifle would have a muzzle brake installed instead as I don’t have a cap for the threads. He said to bring it anyway. I understand that this rifle is not a typical choice for an African safari so don’t give me too much crap please! Lol. In hindsight, I think I would take the .300 WSM with 165 grain Accubonds next time as it can reach out pretty flat as well and packs more punch up close.

I brought my Courtney boots and they worked okay. I have strong ankles but I would bring my Meindl un-insulated boots next time. The ground was very bumpy because as the water recedes after the rainy season, it creates lots of cracks and bumps and you can’t see them in the high grass that wasn’t burned. A stiffer boot with more support would have been better.

I brought my usual green lightweight Outdoor Research jacket that is also water and wind proof. Luckily, I threw in a fleece zip up for sitting outside at night around the fire because I actually needed it underneath my jacket in the mornings. I like to ride in the seat up top in the back of the Landcruiser with the trackers every day to help spot game and it was very cold in the mornings compared to other places I have hunted. I had a lightweight camo stocking cap and it could have been heavier as well. I brought some Marmot lined leather gloves but should have also brought something more insulated. It was cold and we even had frost a couple mornings! Brrr! I did ride in the cab with Fico a couple mornings when my parents slept in but usually my mom was in the cab and my dad and I were in the back of the Landcruiser. Thank gawd I brought my zip-off Kuiu long john bottoms but I didn’t bring a long john top but wished I did. One morning, Fico rode in the back with me and he wore coveralls! Of course by 10am when we stopped for a coffee/tea break, we were shedding layers and it would get into the 70s and 80s.

Zambia is home to tsetse flies so I brought long sleeve collared shirts and pants, not shorts. The flies are only an issue from about 10:30am until just before dark and the stocking hat keeps them off your ears but they will still try to land on your face once in a while. I brought knee-high Gold Toe socks to keep the flies from crawling up my legs under my pants. My parents brought crew length socks and got bit a few times on their lower legs. I brought Avon Skin So Soft bug repellent and it helps but nothing stops the dreaded tsetse flies completely! I’ve been to other areas with more flies (CAR comes to mind) so it wasn’t a big deal.

July 28 - Left camp in the dark heading north on the park boundary road. After about an hour and as it was getting light, we spotted some buffalo up ahead on their way back towards the park. We took a walk but most of them crossed before we got close so we backed off so as not to alert them and push them further into the park. Buffalo are fun but not a priority on this safari as I will have three on license in Tanzania next year.

Returned to the cruiser and continued north after the buffalo had all crossed. A couple miles down the road, a serval crossed the road in front of us. It was just before sunup and he was walking out into a partially burned area. We bailed out after him and I was able to get a walking 100 yard shot at him just before he reached some high grass. He dropped immediately. We are on the board! Very lucky to see a serval in daylight! Only two per year on the quota but they are quite common here and we saw another one just before dark on this same day. The 6.5 exit hole was about a golf ball size. Easy to sew up.

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We waited for full sunup for some good pictures and had tea and coffee while we waited. It was nice to warm up as well!

After pictures, we continued north and saw lots of sable, hartebeest, blue wildebeest and oribi. The best sable we saw was about 42” and Fico said he was too small as we should wait for something over 45”. This is truly one of the best places in Africa for sable. We saw hundreds per day and they are the most common species in the area. Amazing!!

After lunch, we took a walk along an unnamed swamp to look for a sitatunga along the edge of the high grass. No luck. Later, while driving again, we came upon a 44” sable that had a wide flair. Unbelievable that you turn that down here! A great day comes to an end.
 

Scott CWO

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Federico “Fico” Vidale

Fico is a great guy and PH. His dad was Italian and his mother is English. His father, Eugenio, was a well-known, no nonsense PH in Zambia until he died much too young at age 63 from a heart attack while on a safari. Fico’s mother is still alive. Fico has a son named, Ben. Fico’s father operated in Kasonso and Lunda in the 1980s as well as other areas. Eugenio guided many well-known hunters from Europe and the USA. Fico grew up under Eugenio’s tutoring and spent a lot of time in Kasonso as a kid. He apprenticed in both Tanzania and Zambia and received his full PH license at just 19 years of age. He is now in his mid 50s, like me. He has owned and operated safari companies in both Tanzania and Zambia. He has been managing Ntengu Safaris for Carlo Cuturi for the past four years. Fico speaks several languages and is fluent in English, Spanish and Italian. He guides a lot of European hunters and has a loyal following in Europe. He has also guided a lot of Americans, including several well-known hunters. He is hard working and perhaps the best judge of trophy size of any of the PHs that I have every hunted alongside. His judgment of animals was very precise and within a half an inch in length. The camp ran like a well-oiled machine and he had control of the staff.
 

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Looking forward to the full report! Thanks for the detailed start
 

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Enjoying your report very much, looking forward to hearing the rest. Also want to say that friends that help each other are priceless.
 

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Excellent report! Can’t wait for the rest!
 

buck wild

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Serval is one of my top animals left on "the list". Good start. Looks like a truly wild hunt.
 

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Looks to be another great hunting report on its way !
Thanks for sharing and looking forward to the following days :)
 

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July 29 - We left camp at 4:30am to hunt sitatunga by sitting on a machan that we built the day before at mid day.
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The machan overlooked an unnamed swamp that was about 1.5 hours north of camp. We saw two female sitatunga but no males. About 9:00am, we left the machan and drove around through the plains and saw lots of game, including sable, hartebeest, wildebeest and oribi. After lunch at camp, we headed south and saw a small group of elephants not very far from camp. Saw a lot of other game. Just at about sundown, my dad spotted a sable. Turned out to be two mature bulls. One was very wide a also looked long. Fico and I pursed them and tried to get a good look but they kept moving. I could have shot the bull but Fico was still trying to judge him completely. There was no rush and it was only the second day in an area full of sable. It got too dark and he didn’t want to make a mistake so we backed out. Fico thought we would see these two bulls again in better daylight because he knew where they were headed to water. Back to camp for another amazing dinner.

July 30 - Left camp at 4:30am and drove north and then a bit east all the way up to the Busanga Swamp that separates Kasonso from Lunda. We hiked to a big termite mound overlooking the swamp and glassed until sunup but saw nothing. We quickly hiked back to the cruiser and drove a short distance and got out and hiked to a machan in a large tree overlooking the swamp. Upon approaching and climbing the tree, we bumped a couple sitatunga bulls. We never saw them but heard them grunting and blowing through their nose as an alarm. Later after things calmed down, I spotted a bull and got excited until Fico said it was too small. Sitatunga was my main trophy I wanted on this hunt, followed by the three lechwe species. However, lechwe number in the thousands here so sitatunga was the species I was most concerned about getting. We climbed down and hiked back to the cruiser.

After a short drive, Fico, Mackson the tracker, Jackson the Game Scout and I hiked along the edge of the swamp while the other tracker, Godfrey, stayed with the cruiser with instructions to wait a couple hours to follow us to pick us up. Along the way, we saw several females and some small bulls. We eventually came to a permanent metal platform/machan that Carlo had his construction crew and welders build. From there, we saw hundreds of puku and red lechwe. Fico said that the puku and lechwe had pushed out the sitatunga on that part of the swamp where it bordered big open plains. The cruiser arrived and we had hot tea and a snack.

We then drove past the anti-poaching camp in that area and drove out into the plains to look over the vast herds of puku and red lechwe. We drove east along the north/south border with the park and then turned northwest into the wind to start judging the lechwe and puku that are mixed together. The bull lechwe form giant bachelor herds and it is hard to shoot and judge them when there are so many densely packed herds. The puku are more mixed together with males and females running together.

We saw a couple big puku but they walked into the park so we turned our attention to lechwe. After looking over several herds, Fico pointed one out that even I could tell was better than the others. We got out of the cruiser for a stalk but the lechwe have a knack for just constantly moving and staying about 350 yards away. I finally got a quick opportunity at 330 yards as the bull passed through an open gap in the herd but in the rush, not only did I forget to hold for the 15 mph wind but I think I also just rushed the shot a bit and missed. It’s easy to do after waiting and waiting for the bull you want to present an open shot. The herd didn’t run away too far or towards the park and they actually went further away from the boundary in our favor. After some repositioning and stalking, I finally got another opportunity at about 250 yards and this time he went down after a short death sprint!


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The red lechwe later measured out at 27 2/8” which is quite nice. We headed back to camp for lunch and stopped and glassed animals along the way.
 
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July 29 - We left camp at 4:30am to hunt sitatunga by sitting on a machan that we built the day before at mid day.
View attachment 483151
View attachment 483152
The machan overlooked an unnamed swamp that was about 1.5 hours north of camp. We saw two female sitatunga but no males. About 9:00am, we left the machan and drove around through the plains and saw lots of game, including sable, hartebeest, wildebeest and oribi. After lunch at camp, we headed south and saw a small group of elephants not very far from camp. Saw a lot of other game. Just at about sundown, my dad spotted a sable. Turned out to be two mature bulls. One was very wide a also looked long. Fico and I pursed them and tried to get a good look but they kept moving. I could have shot the bull but Fico was still trying to judge him completely. There was no rush and it was only the second day in an area full of sable. It got too dark and he didn’t want to make a mistake so we backed out. Fico thought we would see these two bulls again in better daylight because he knew where they were headed to water. Back to camp for another amazing dinner.

July 30 - Left camp at 4:30am and drove north and then a bit east all the way up to the Busanga Swamp that separates Kasonso from Lunda. We hiked to a big termite mound overlooking the swamp and glassed until sunup but saw nothing. We quickly hiked back to the cruiser and drove a short distance and got out and hiked to a machan in a large tree overlooking the swamp. Upon approaching and climbing the tree, we bumped a couple sitatunga bulls. We never saw them but heard them grunting and blowing through their nose as an alarm. Later after things calmed down, I spotted a bull and got excited until Fico said it was too small. Sitatunga was my main trophy I wanted on this hunt, followed by the three lechwe species. However, lechwe number in the thousands here so sitatunga was the species I was most concerned about getting. We climbed down and hiked back to the cruiser.

After a short drive, Fico, Mackson the tracker, Jackson the Game Scout and I hiked along the edge of the swamp while the other tracker, Godfrey, stayed with the cruiser with instructions to wait a couple hours to follow us to pick us up. Along the way, we saw several females and some small bulls. We eventually came to a permanent metal platform/machan that Carlo had his construction crew and welders build. From there, we saw hundreds of puku and red lechwe. Fico said that the puku and lechwe had pushed out the sitatunga on that part of the swamp where it bordered big open plains. The cruiser arrived and we had hot tea and a snack.

We then drove past the anti-poaching camp in that area and drove out into the plains to look over the vast herds of puku and red lechwe. We drove east along the north/south border with the park and then turned northwest into the wind to start judging the lechwe and puku that are mixed together. The bull lechwe form giant bachelor herds and it is hard to shoot and judge them when there are so many densely packed herds. The puku are more mixed together with males and females running together.

We saw a couple big puku but they walked into the park so we turned our attention to lechwe. After looking over several herds, Fico pointed one out that even I could tell was better than the others. We got out of the cruiser for a stalk but the lechwe have a knack for just constantly moving and staying about 350 yards away. I finally got a quick opportunity at 330 yards as the bull passed through an open gap in the herd but in the rush, not only did I forget to hold for the 15 mph wind but I think I also just rushed the shot a bit and missed. It’s easy to do after waiting and waiting for the bull you want to present an open shot. The herd didn’t run away too far or towards the park and they actually went further away from the boundary in our favor. After some repositioning and stalking, I finally got another opportunity at about 250 yards and this time he went down after a short death sprint!

View attachment 483153
View attachment 483154

The red lechwe later measured out at 27 2/8” which is quite nice. We headed back to camp for lunch and stopped and glassed animals along the way.
That's a gorgeous animal, congratulations @Scott CWO ! Waidmannsheil!
 

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