ZAMBIA: Takeri Reserve - Zambia's Special Place

Red Leg

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I was not particularly happy with myself as I glanced quickly at the latest plate-sized splash of bright red blood marking the trail of a waterbuck that should have been lying dead half kilometer behind us. As I carefully moved a thorn laden branch out of the way, I agonized over the knowledge that I had pulled the shot to the right. A follow-up shot had not been remotely possible as the blocky and very tough animal dove into the brush at a dead run. This was the last day of a magical hunt on Mike Taylor's wonderful Takeri Reserve, and the extraordinary opportunity to take a rare Crawshay Defassa Waterbuck had eluded us from day one.

We had made contact with this particular bull twice over the previous two days and attempted five different approaches all of which had been terminated by the fickle Zambian winds or bumping other animals. Finally, on that last morning Andrew worked us into a position where the bull and his small harem were drifting past within 100 meters of the Rigby .275 balanced on the sticks.

As Apprentice PH Peter Goneos, PH Andrew Baldry, Mike, and myself followed our tracker Earnest at a very nearly a forced march pace on the dramatic blood trail, I could only pray this special safari wasn’t about to end badly.

Eleven Days Previously

Mike and I had talked about a hunt at Takeri for several years. Other scheduled hunts, vacations elsewhere, and the pandemic caused annual delays, but I finally found myself boarding a Qatar Airways flight in Houston for the long trip to Lusaka in early August. A few Covid testing hurdles in Houston had to be overcome, and the mysterious gremlins that inhabit the Johannesburg airport managed to misplace my rifle until the evening flight to Lusaka. But by mid-morning the next day Mike, the lovely Louise, and I were bouncing over the rural roads to Takeri.

I should note that business class on Qatar Airways is as fine a way to deal with 23 hours in aircraft as exists on the planet. From the privacy of business class seating, to restaurant quality meals and an extraordinary wine list, to a hot shower at the best business class lounge in my travel experience, Qatar is step above.

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In the gun case was my .275 Rigby Highland Stalker. It had taken a lovely Hill Country whitetail during a previous season, but this was its maiden trip to Africa. It reliably puts the dependable 170 grain Oryx bullet into practically the same hole off the bench. However, I had taken plains game with a .375 on my last several safaris in Mozambique and South Africa. The little 7x57 is a wonderful light rifle for Africa, but it would not be launching the 300 gr A-Frame that had proven so decisive on my recent previous hunts. I was very curious to see how it would perform.

Takeri is the antithesis of a mass-production hunting camp. Beautifully situated on the banks of the Kafue River, it is built around an old ranch house with a comfortable tented quarters for a couple of visiting clients. With carefully managed quotas, the reserve can effectively host four to six hunters a year.

I was also extremely fortunate to have the services of one of the most experienced PH’s in Africa. Over several decades, Andrew Baldry has guided many dozens of hunters for Zambia’s unique plains game and he has earned a worldwide reputation successfully pursuing the country's dangerous game. Peter Goneos would be participating as an apprentice, but I have seen many young PH’s with far less practical hunting experience than Peter. Andrew obviously made the same assessment as Peter would lead most of our approaches. Finally, Mike would accompany all our hunts but the blue duiker, casting the deciding vote on the quality of the animal we would take.

We quickly verified the Rigby’s zero of 1.5 inches high at 100 meters, and we were ready to start our search for Takeri’s treasures.

Kafue Lechwe

The magnificent Sable is the reason many people put Zambia on there bucket list. The big black antelope were certainly a contributing factor to my presence there. But the opportunity to pursue a Kafue Lechwe was, at least initially, my primary objective for the trip.

These beautiful animals inhabit a very restrictive environment in Zambia, but Takeri has a healthy population occupying one of the extreme points of their likely traditional range. A Zambian dambo and forest environment is very similar to the savannah jungle coutadas of coastal Mozambique. Strips of dense brush and tall hardwoods are framed by broad swaths of grassy plains (dambo). The lechwe herds dominate those open flats.

Five or six-hundred yards across one of the flats we observed a herd of as many as thirty animals feeding in and out of the brushy edge of the dambo. Two old bulls stood out to even a neophyte lechwe hunter like me. Andrew motioned for young Peter to take the lead in the stalk as we crept forward to close the range on several dozen noses and pairs of eyes.

Again, like coastal Mozambique, enormous twenty-foot-high brush covered termite mounds were scattered throughout both the forests and flats. A couple of these allowed us to approach the milling herd and set up for a two-hundred-yard shot at the larger of the two old bulls.

As I moved onto the sticks a trace of wind touched the back of my neck, and instantly every animal in the herd spun or froze looking in our direction. The big bull was standing clear of his fellows but facing me. However, the crosshairs were steady as I confidently squeezed off the shot. One advantage of the .275 is the ability to observe the shot through the light recoil of the rifle. I instantly picked up the buff of dust to the right and beyond the animal’s left shoulder. As he spun to the left and began to move away, my second shot took him cleanly low in the chest. He went perhaps thirty feet before collapsing.

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Walking up to the magnificent animal, I puzzled momentarily about that first shot, but finally chalked it up to the range and that it was the first effort of the safari. I probably should have puzzled longer.

The ride back to camp was a pleasant one as we all admired the big animal in the back of the cruiser. I took it as a good sign that both Andrew and Peter were as excited by the huge old bull as I was.

Blue Duiker

Whoever hunts Africa numerous times will inevitably find a nemesis. For many it is a leopard. I have a friend in South Carolina who has spent more than thirty evenings or mornings in blinds over three safaris without even seeing one. For a long time, it was the bushbuck that slowly drove me to distraction. I finally collected one on my second expedition to Mozambique. But the ultimate challenge became the blue duiker.

During two safaris in coastal Mozambique, I successfully pursued common and red duiker, oribi, and suni. But hours and days of creeping through coastal jungle and thickets produced only the occasional flicker of movement from a departing blue. One morning we even swept the leaves from a kilometer of trail through a thicket that sign indicated was teaming with the tiny antelope. As we ghosted down it in the early twilight of late afternoon, we were mocked by dozens of tiny prints left in the newly cleared dusty footpath.

Finally, at Takeri I found a PH and apprentice as excited about trying to find a quality old male as I was. Fortunately, we also had the radar vison of our young tracker Earnest. Shivering in the early light of morning or through the twilight of late afternoon we ghosted through the forest. During each attempt we saw blues, but never did we have a chance to evaluate one, much less get a shot (both males and females have tiny horns).

Finally, at last light of the second day, Earnest and Peter froze. As the sticks came up, I eased onto them seeing the outline of a tiny antelope seemingly materialize out of the dark underbrush. The red dot of the Leica scope painted him center of mass, as Peter glanced toward Andrew. An enthusiastic, if careful nod from Andrew and whispered “take him” from Peter was instantly followed by the bark of the little Rigby.

The tiny “bull” is as superb an animal as I have ever taken anywhere. He is the largest that Andrew had ever taken, and while not particularly important to me, quick measurements at the skinning shed proved he would list very high in Rolland & Ward and SCI records. The satisfaction of fulfilling a demanding quest was palatable.

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Chobe Bushbuck

Bushbuck are fun and challenging to hunt. Until my last safari in Mozambique, I had about decided it was impossible for me to take one. But, Takeri has many of them, and I quickly concluded that there was a good chance that we could find a truly old ram.

Bushbuck are often a target of opportunity. This one proved to be one as well. After taking the Lechwe and blue duiker, we continued to drive and walk the trails on Takeri. We evaluated sable, passed on waterbuck, and looked over the small herds of puku that inhabit the niche filled by impala elsewhere in Africa. As usual, warthog acted like they were under constant threat of a strafing attack.

Suddenly, Andrew eased on the brakes of the Land Cruiser as Earnest simultaneously pointed to the side of one of the large termite mounds deep in the brush. Slipping off the vehicle and quietly chambering a round, I joined Peter and our scout as we maneuvered to try a get position for a shot. The bushbuck clearly had enough and began to move across our front. Peter set the sticks perfectly as I covered an opening perhaps eighty meters away. As the big ram drifted across, I fired with what I thought was a perfect forward, low shoulder hold. No sound of bullet strike came back, and the ram made no reaction other than to pick up the pace of his departure.

Peter and I hurried forward, and fortunately glimpsed him well over a hundred yards away hurrying directly away at a fast walk. The sticks came up and I settled on him just before he went out of sight. Remembering the Lechwe, I put the crosshairs high on his left hip rather than dead center. A solid thump came back with the shot.

We found him collapsed about sixty or seventy yards later, and a finisher ended the unnecessary drama. He was truly an ancient old warrior. Blind in one eye, his ears were tattered from territorial battles and scars covered his face, neck and shoulders. Simply the perfect animal to have hunted. Andrew marveled, “What an old dagga boy.”

The first shot had indeed missed completely and the second had hit him low in the brisket from the rear as he hustled away. As soon as we had taken the requisite photos and loaded him, I had Peter make a mark on a tree about a hundred yards away. A couple of quick shots demonstrated a rifle shooting low and to the right. After dropping bushbuck at the skinning shed, we hurried over to the range where we had to correct several inches in windage and drop; an error that would be compounded meaningfully with the longer-range shots on the flats.

Since sighting in on the first day, the rifle had not been dropped, and had ridden protected in a case in the rack of the cruiser. Moreover, the rifle was equipped with a Leica ERi scope which is one of the more dependable models that I have ever owned. Baffled, I could only conclude something had indeed shifted while bouncing in the rack after initial zero.

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Puku

Though Puku occupy a similar niche to impala their behavior is somewhat different. While impala love small openings in the thorn tangles of southern Africa, the Puku is a creature of the savannah’s edge. A mature ram guards a family group of five to ten females that tend to graze quietly on the edge of the forest.

Every day we had seen a number of such groups. Finally, late one afternoon we stumbled upon a small herd in the far reaches of a distant dambo. A mature ram was to one side in grass so tall that we could only see his large horns. He easily cleared both Mike and Andrew’s critical review. As we observed them well over four hundred yards away, the ram turned and began to walk slowly away, quickly disappearing completely in the head-high straw grass.

Andrew, Peter and I quickly discussed options, and Andrew sent Peter and I on a long curving sweep that would hopefully either intercept the big ram or give us a covered approach should he have returned to the herd. At times we were working our way through grass well above our heads to reach another of the ubiquitous termite mounds.

After carefully sneaking to the top, we could see nothing in the sea of grass between us and the ram’s initial position. After a few minutes, we both became convinced he had either bedded or returned to the herd. We eased back down and agreed to move slowly extending our loop beyond the herd hoping we would get an opportunity should we glimpse him.

We had not taken two steps when I caught movement out the corner of my eye. A quick hiss to Peter and he had the sticks positioned as the big ram emerged from the thick grass not sixty meters away. The quartering shot went where it was supposed to and he was down within a few meters. Like everything we had taken thus far, he would score very well indeed.

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Sable

We were seeing sable every day. Lone bulls, bulls with herds, and bachelor groups seemed to be scattered across the reserve. The vast majority of mature animals were of a quality that would have left my PH in Mozambique weeping. However, Mike twice over the last couple of months, had seen a huge bodied bull with heavy horns that carried their weight well into a classic curve. He really wanted us to find him.

We searched diligently. We crept up among herds, we studied them from afar, and we watched as they drifted past in the more open woodland. Magnificent animals paraded past. Each was dismissed by Mike with a slight shake of the head.

Late one morning, as we were preparing to head in for lunch and a nap, we sighted a small herd in an isolated dambo. Not anticipating anything, Andrew suggested that he and Peter simply have a quick look. Rather than hang around the truck both Mike and I decided we might as well tag along. In so doing, I violated one of my strictest rules while hunting in Africa. Never approach a potential shooting opportunity without a rifle. The little Rigby was nestled comfortably in its rack in the bed of the cruiser. I even mentioned jokingly to Peter and Mike that I was breaking a sacred commandment.

We again located a conveniently placed termite mound and edged around it to see if we could spot a bull. A young one walked by, and Andrew immediately dismissed the notion that he could be tending such a herd. Peter then climbed up the mound slightly to gain a better a view and immediately ducked, turning to Andrew with a rueful grin on his face. Andrew shook his head slightly, eased up, and also immediately lowered it while frantically waving Mike over. It was Mike’s turn to repeat the same maneuver, except as he came down, he spun around and practically ran back toward the vehicle.

I decided discretion was probably wise at this point and did not make the trip up the mound. Besides both Peter and Andrew were giving me an enthusiastic thumbs up while watching Mike do his best imitation of a 220 sprint.

With my rifle finally back in hand and confident Mike wasn’t about to go into cardiac arrest, Peter and I eased to the left around the mound. As he set the sticks, I needed no guidance to pick out the big bull. Unfortunately, we were dealing with a lot of brush, and I only had a quick opportunity as he angled away through the narrowest of windows. I did not attempt the shot.

We then eased to the right a bit and spotted him angling back to a spot perhaps eighty meters away where he would cross an opening. As he entered it, I fired hitting him high center on the shoulder. He collapsed instantly.

It was only as we approached him that it became apparent that his size and the massive weight of his horns hid their true length. Slightly over 45 inches long with 10 ½ inch bases, he was the bull of a lifetime. For the longest time all of us could only stare and touch the incredible animal. We celebrated late into the evening.
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Warthog and Reedbuck

Early in the hunt, I told Mike that I would be delighted to have an opportunity for either a warthog or reedbuck. We quickly reached a fiscal agreement and kept our eyes open. With the sable in hand, the waterbuck had quickly become our most challenging objective. As we crept through the forest and tall grass bordering the broad flats, the opportunity for both of the other animals increased dramatically.

We had seen a respectable boar several times near a drying waterhole, but never came close to getting off a shot. Most of the others launched into frantic retreat at first sight of a vehicle or whiff of us during a stalk. However, one afternoon, as we eased along a trail seeking to close with a group of distant waterbuck an ancient boar materialized in the brush. One tusk was extraordinary, and the sticks came up immediately. Angling slightly toward us, I placed the crosshairs on the point of the shoulder and pressed the trigger.

He exploded in a mad dash, and we spent the better part of a half hour sorting out his tracks, never once seeing a drop of blood. We eventually found him fully a hundred meters from the point where he was hit, stone dead at the foot of a small tree which he had slammed into at full speed. The bullet had struck him exactly where I had aimed.

He was an ancient old boar with a broken tusk and another that probably deserved an ivory permit. I could not have been happier.

Our encounter with the reed buck was similar. Again, we were taking a long walk hoping to catch a waterbuck unaware. Crossing a small dambo, we were soon wading through chest deep grass focused on the forest before us. At that moment, a very nice reedbuck launched himself out of his bed and ran off somewhere to our left.

There was no sense trying to follow him, so we continued very slowly and quietly along our original trail. Every sense was attuned to our left, and as we entered the forest, Peter abruptly halted and threw up the sticks. Settling into them, it took me a moment to find the animal angling toward us a bit over a hundred meters away.

At the shot, the animal took off at a run obviously hit. We again spent spent significant time sorting out his tracks and following him. Approximately 120 meters from where he had been hit, we found him expiring in the tall grass. The bullet had taken him inside the right shoulder and exited behind the left. He nevertheless had gone a surprisingly long way.
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Crawshay Defassa Waterbuck

I had hunted common waterbuck before in both Namibia and Mozambique. I had never seen either of the Defassa subspecies (Crawshay and Sing Sing). With a limited range in Zambia and the Caprivi, the chance to hunt a Crawshay on Takeri was a truly rare opportunity. Like every other animal we hunted, our search was for a heavy mature bull.

I found them extremely difficult to judge. The soaring tips on a large common waterbuck bull are an obvious indicator of age and size. With the shorter, straighter horns of the Defassa, horn mass and relative size of the bull are the indicators. I simply had not seen enough of them to put those assessments together accurately. And we saw bulls nearly every day. We saw bachelor groups of young bulls, small herds with large but young bulls, and very ordinary bulls wandering alone.

Finally on the second to last day of our hunt we spotted a large, almost black bull with a younger male and small group of cows. They were clearly using a particular area of forest and tall grass dambo as their territory. On that day alone we attempted four different approaches, never getting in position for a shot as we were either winded or intervening animals like sable and puku spooked them.

On our final morning, we again focused on that area and again spotted the small herd. Creeping through leaves that sounded like popcorn, we were forced to watch the big bull move off with his harem. Andrew immediately reversed course to where a vehicle track ran through the edge of the forest parallel to the flat. We practically sprinted along it trying to get to a point where we could intercept the bull. After about 600 meters, we again probed into the dambo finding yet another termite mound to give us a bit of elevation. On cue the herd began drifting by, but only the younger bull offered a shot. Having none of it, Andrew again pulled us out and we again raced down the track.

400 meters farther along, we again started our blind approach into the grass. Almost immediately, we all spotted the herd, and a few moments later the big bull moving toward a patch of shorter brush no more than 100 meters away. Already on the sticks, I was prepared to fire as soon as he was clear.

Whether shooting targets or game, I always call the shot. I find it tends to force follow-through, but it is also a vital clue to what happened when things don't go exactly right. In this case, the bull had paused broadside, facing left to right. Due to the brush well above his brisket, I intended to put the bullet high center on the shoulder. Instead, I immediately knew that I had pulled the shot to the right. My assumption was that the bullet had gone through the base of the neck (eventually proven correct) without hitting a vertebrate. The only good news was that the bull was nevertheless very hard hit and bleeding dramatically.

As noted at the start of this report, it was a very long chase that we could maintain at a fast pace due to the dramatic blood trail. After more than a kilometer, we finally caught up to him where he had collapsed trying to push through the mud and reeds of the Kafue River. I wasn't very proud of my shooting, but I was extraordinarily proud of such a magnificent animal. Like every other primary target on our list, the big bull easily qualifies for both Rowland & Ward and SCI.

We were also rather careful getting a strap from the wench around the big bull's neck - after all, a bleeding dead waterbuck on the edge of a croc infested river. What could go wrong?

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The real joy in hunting a place like Takeri Reserve was spending time with Mike and getting to know two fine fellows like Andrew and Peter. Yes, it is great to take a group of fine animals; several were either new to me or, like the blue duiker, represented the culmination of a lot of previous frustration and effort. But, it was simply a lot of fun in a truly beautiful corner of Africa. Yes, Lusaka is somewhat more trouble than being picked up by a PH in Windhoek or Johannesburg. But it is a bit more effort that pays tremendous dividends. I could not recommend the experience more highly to any of you.

After filling out all the paperwork, we again settled down to a quiet celebration that lasted late into the night.

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Velo Dog

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Excellent !
 

Nyati

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Well done Joe, very nice animals and good company !

I really envy that Puku :E Drooling:
 

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Joe thank you for that amazing report....it was a huge pleasure to have you come visit and hunt here after meeting in Vegas at sci a few years ago and again at dsc....Sat having a gin and tonic and louise says hi , and was happy your trip home went safely....your patience especially with the sable was appreciated, as your head shaking and amazed look on your face on a daily basis when we kept saying no was quite amusing ....again a huge pleasure in having you here...thank you
 

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Congrats on a fantastic hunt, thanks for sharing!
 

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I was waiting for this one!
 

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Fantastic report, thankyou for sharing! Congratulations on a great hunt and amazing animals. That Sable...wow!
 

Justin.

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What a hunt! Thank you very much for sharing it with all of us! Love seeing such a beautiful rifle used like it was intended!

Deposit down on your trip back already? LOL!
 

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I absolutely loved this hunt report. I'm really glad that you got to experience how great Takeri is. It will always be one of my favorite trips and places to be. You took some amazing trophies and saw an incredible part of Africa.
I loved that I got to fish during the lunch breaks. Takeri is so perfectly located.
You're right when you wrote that it is harder to get there than Windhoek or Johannesburg, but the reward for doing so is great.
Mike told me that Dacapo's was closed and you missed out on that.
Did you have much issues with the Covid testing gauntlet in Lusaka?
 

Kevin Peacocke

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Good report Joe, thank you. I really liked that sable, but all your animals were worthy. Thanks for coming to Africa with the little Rigby.
 

jasyblood

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Takeri sounds like an awesome place! Congrats to everyone and thanks for sharing!!
 

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I absolutely loved this hunt report. I'm really glad that you got to experience how great Takeri is. It will always be one of my favorite trips and places to be. You took some amazing trophies and saw an incredible part of Africa.
I loved that I got to fish during the lunch breaks. Takeri is so perfectly located.
You're right when you wrote that it is harder to get there than Windhoek or Johannesburg, but the reward for doing so is great.
Mike told me that Dacapo's was closed and you missed out on that.
Did you have much issues with the Covid testing gauntlet in Lusaka?

There is a lab that does it in 12 hours now ...but from when joe had his test to when I collected it next morning was lot less..that makes big difference...also open on sat and Sun till 2pm
 

cls

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Well done, thanks for the report. Zambia is a special place to hunt and it sounds like Takeri does it up right. Congratulations.
 

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Cheers to all involved !! Great report and fabulous trip.
 

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The patience on that Sable was worth it.
Great tale, well told.

Incredible specimens all round.
Congratulations to the whole team.
 

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Red Leg, thanks for taking us along on your fantastic hunt. I really enjoyed the opportunity. Now for the $64.00 question, what's next on the docket?
 

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@Red Leg another fine hunting report. I am impressed with the performance of your 275 Rigby. You took some excellent trophies.

One question for you, as I am guessing this might be a slight error:

Takeri is the antithesis of a mass-production hunting camp. Beautifully situated on the banks of the Kafue River, it is built around an old ranch house with a comfortable tented quarters for a couple of visiting clients. With carefully managed quotas, the reserve can effectively host four to six hunters a year.

I'm thinking four to six hunters a year wouldn't cover Mike's bar tab. Either that or Takeri Reserve is more exclusive than I thought! Did you mean 4 to 6 per week?
 

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New Mexico, USA
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NRA Life Member, DSC
Hunted
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What a great trip and outstanding animals. Thank you for taking the time to share it with us. I really enjoyed it.
 

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Rick HOlbert wrote on NTH's profile.
NTH, Just found your message. I hunt with Eland Pro Safaris in Namibia. Wide selection of game and great folks. Hell my PH and his family ARE adopted family, LOL! I book people to hunt with them and should you be interested I'd be happy to meet and discuss a trip. Anyway all the best to you and give me a shout sometime. Bye for now.
NTH wrote on Rick HOlbert's profile.
Nice “meeting” you Rick. I made my first trip to S. Africa this year through Kuche Safaris. We had an incredible time. What outfitter do you use? Neal
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