North Texas SCI Member’s First safari
by Marcus Cady | November 2009
I have been a member of the North Texas Chapter of Safari Club International several years. My Dad, Robert, has been a member much longer. We are attorneys, and I work with him in his practice. Obviously, my father has been a strong influence on my professional and outdoor career.
Since I was old enough to shoot a gun, he and I have spent quality time in the outdoors together. We have hunted deer, quail and dove together – including a fantastic trip to Argentina where Dad took a trophy stag and a water buffalo. But mostly, we hunt the Albany area northeast of Abilene, Texas.
We purchased this trip at the SCI North Texas Chapter banquet in March 2008. I immediately began arranging travel through Doug Gray, agent for Gracy Travel International. Doug was a huge help securing the best fares and working with us on dates. It did not take long for me to realize that an African safari entails much more preparation than a weekend deer hunting trip to west Texas. For example, the temporary import permit for firearms requires that forms be filled out with U.S. Customs and South Africa Police Service. Much of this was facilitated by riflepermits.com. When we landed in Johannesburg, Joe of riflepermits.com got us to the front of the line and the process was fairly painless.
This was my first safari, and I was after Plains Game. One nice aspect of this hunt was that the trophy fees for what most consider typical Plains Game were included. However, I did want to add a few more animals to round out my first safari experience. This was my father’s second Plains Game safari, and he wanted to fill out a few holes he had on his wall with some of the less common species.
Day 1-3 July 20 – July 22, 2009
We departed Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport for Washington Dulles Airport to connect with South African Airways Flight 208. Our flight was delayed at Dulles three hours due to mechanical problems, which caused us to miss our connection to Port Elizabeth. So we spent the night in Johannesburg. We left for Port Elizabeth and arrived there around 10:00 a.m. the following morning.
The first leg of our African safari was spent hunting with Melody Safaris and owner Louis Lategan. Louis hunts the Alexandria area in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa.
We spent the first afternoon hunting Blesbuck. For some reason, I could not hit anything with my rifle that day. Luckily, I eventually shot a nice Blesbuck after getting the rifle squared away. The Blesbuck was loaded into the back of the Land Cruiser, and we returned to the lodge for drinks and a great dinner.
I awoke around 4:30 a.m. We headed out around 6:00 to hunt an area about an hour and a half away, north of Grahamstown. The land owner was a gentleman named Alvin, who I could tell had been a rugby player from all of the surgical scars on his knees. We saw a nice Steenbuck, but he ran off before we could really judge him. While hunting Springbok, we spotted a very nice Mountain Reedbuck between 7 and 8 inches. Just as he was about to disappear into the brush, I shot that Reedbuck at 150 yards.
Later, I shot a pair of Springbok at 200 to 250 yards. The first appeared to have gone down, so I proceeded to shoot the second. Unfortunately, the first Springbok got up and took off. I followed the trackers, Smilee and Desmond, to put the injured animal down. However, it was not as badly injured as we had hoped. We followed it for what seemed like miles through very rough country, often running. Because of all that exertion, I had difficulty holding my rifle steady to shoot while catching my breath. It is truly amazing how the trackers are in such good shape and can run for miles without rest, or even breathing heavily.
Finally, the Springbok hunkered down, and I was able to end the chase.
Later that afternoon, my father shot a very nice Red Hartebeest. A rough measurement put that Hartebeest at 28 inches, a trophy in all the record books. These are very strange, yet cool looking animals.
Upon returning to the Alexandria area, we hunted two specific Gemsbok on a certain property. Louis and I stalked to within 250 yards, and as soon as I got on the sticks, the Gemsbok ran for cover. We tried to track them, but they escaped into a valley as we were running out of daylight.
Louis and I hunted Bushbuck in the morning, but the wind picked up, which kept these wary animals in the brush. That Bushbuck terrain was extremely rugged and covered in thick foliage.
Later that day, I shot my second Blesbuck. That afternoon we returned to hunt Gemsbok.
We went to a few spots to glass in an effort to find the Gemsbok. As we were walking through the area, Louis spotted the tips of an animal’s horns, and we immediately got down.
He told me to shoot as it was a good trophy. I shot the Gemsbok in the shoulder from about 80 to 100 yards. It ran a few steps after my shot, and I put one more in the animal for insurance, putting it down for good.
That Gemsbok measured slightly over 40 inches. We recovered the bullet from the second shot, and the 270-grain soft point from the .375 Holland & Holland rifle showed nice expansion.
That evening, Louis and I hunted Bushbuck and Duiker. We decided to use a Sako .243 Louis owns to preserve as much of the meat and hide as possible on these smaller animals. I had trouble shooting with Louis’ scope – the cross hairs just disappeared, but eventually I was able to take a nice Duiker and a good Cape Bushbuck. Cape Bushbuck, for those who have not hunted them, are a very nice animal with beautiful skin. Although Bushbuck are usually larger further north, the darker skin of the animals where we hunted adds a lot of character, in my opinion.
My father shot a nice White Blesbuck at about 100 yards, running. He really wanted to add a White Blesbuck to his collection, and he was able to get a nice, mature male.
We left for Port Elizabeth to head to Limpopo Province to hunt with Ntshonalanga Safaris. On the way to the airport, we stopped at a curio shop to buy gifts for friends and family back home.
The flight from Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg is about two hours. We ar r ived in Johannesburg about 3:00 in the afternoon and met our PH, Paul Brits of Ntshonalanga Safaris. It was getting late, so we stayed in a nice guest house in Pretoria. At dinner that evening, we met Ray and Ellie. Ray was on his 15th safari, this time for a darted rhino. At the conclusion of our hunt, we learned that Ray got his darted rhino, together with several nice Plains Game specimens.
We left the Pretoria guest house for Limpopo Province about 7:00 that morning, headed for a town called Thabazimbi. On the way, we met Dirk and John Faul, owners of Ntshonalanga, and we picked up Willy, our skinner/tracker. Willy has hunted for over 17 years, and his skills showed his experience. We finally reached our destination, the Badger Bush Lodge, owned by Jacques and Lori.
That afternoon we headed to a nearby property. We did not see any trophy quality animals there, but did spot a Caracal during the day (a very rare sighting), and a Roan Antelope, a rare species.
We stayed the entire day on a property hunting Zebra, Blue Wildebeest, Impala and Warthog.
We dropped my father and Willy off at a blind while we drove around. We saw many Zebra, but could not tell if they were stallions or mares due to the thick brush. Speaking of brush, the terrain in Limpopo, otherwise known as the bushveld, reminded me a lot of Texas. We attempted several stalks, but the wind switched on us each time and gave our position away.
The afternoon hunt was very slow, but about 5:30 we finally spotted a small herd of Zebra.
Paul indicated which Zebra to shoot, and I steadied myself. I shot and connected from about 180 yards. Although I hit the Zebra on the shoulder, double-lunging him, it still ran almost 100 yards.
This had to be the most boring day of the hunt. I sat in a blind, while inhaling burned Zebra dung to mask our scent. I think we got spoiled the first week by having so many great shooting opportunities, which resulted in Day 10’s boredom. However, the animals will do their own thing. Such is hunting.
We left for a property owned by a gentleman named Reneil, which was not far from the Botswana border. On Paul’s GPS, I was able to determine that we were only a few miles from the Limpopo River, the border between South Africa and Botswana. Early that morning, we spotted a herd of Impala grazing just outside the bush. I shot a nice Impala ram at 200 yards, and the Impala went down instantly.
After that Impala, Reneil and I did quite a bit of walking through the bush, hunting animals or driving them toward the rest of our party in the bakke. During one of those stalks, we ran up a lot of game, including a very nice Warthog that ran off before I could take a shot.
Then we saw a nice Blue Wildebeest 100 yards away. Without shooting sticks, I used Reneil’s left shoulder as a rest and let the lead fly. I hit the bull in the shoulder, but he still ran off. We tried to track that Wildebeest for a bit, but could not find a good trail. Wildebeest are notorious for taking a lot of punishment and leaving very little blood trail. Reneil decided we should eat lunch and resume tracking with the rest of our crew and a dog.
After lunch, Kenny, a PH from a neighboring property, found my bull about 250 yards from where I shot it. It is amazing how much tougher African animals are than North American game. Despite ideal shot placement to the vitals, African game don’t always drop instantly. I was able to recover my Trophy Bonded Bear Claw slug from that Wildebeest, and the bullet mushroomed perfectly.
Later in the day, my father shot a Zebra. Unfortunately, his shot was a little low and the Zebra ran quite a ways. We picked up the blood trail and followed it for about 35 yards until it stopped. After spreading out to find spoor crossing the road ahead, we discovered more blood. Approaching a dry creek, we fanned out to have a better chance of jumping my father’s wounded Zebra. Willy found the Zebra and it took off running, but the Jack Russell Terrier, Sofiel, was in hot pursuit.
Kenny was able to get off a couple shots, and he finally put that Zebra down. We crossed to Reneil’s other property to pursue Kudu before the sun fell off the horizon. We didn’t see any trophy Kudu, but we did see some Cape Buffalo and some very nice Eland.
We hunted Waterbuck that morning, but were minutes shy of catching them before they headed for the bush. While Willy skinned trophies from Day 11, I had my chance to drive the bakke. It took me a little while to get used to a right-hand drive vehicle, but it was smooth sailing thereafter. The order of the gears is the same as we have in a left-hand drive vehicle, but you must shift with your other hand.
However, at least the pedals are also the same as American left-handed vehicles.
Our plan that afternoon was to let my father hunt with Paul, and Jacques would take me elsewhere to hunt Kudu. Unfortunately, only young bulls showed in our area. However, I shot a Warthog, not the biggest ever taken, but an old animal and definitely one on my wish list. I just had to return to Texas with one of those ugly, wicked looking porkers from South Africa!
Dad returned to Reneil’s for Eland where he shot a record-book Cape Eland measuring 38 inches. I was amazed to see that Eland’s size! Paul told me Eland will often outweigh a Cape Buffalo.
We hunted the same area for Waterbuck the next morning, but without any luck. That afternoon, Jacques took me to his “honey hole” for Kudu. Unfortunately, it was the same story as the previous afternoon – no mature bulls there. Since this was the last day of our hunt, I was upset not to have had an opportunity at a Kudu bull, one of the animals I truly wanted to bring back from Africa.
That evening, we cooked Eland steaks, fresh from my father’s trophy, on hot, cast iron tiles and ate outside by the fire. Paul, my PH, told me he wanted to take me out in the morning for one last shot at Kudu before we left for Johannesburg. Paul was being gracious because our hunt had already concluded. I think he wanted to make up for our poor luck on Kudu.
Day 14 August 2
We sat in a blind for about an hour in the morning, but no Kudu bulls ever showed. We had to hurry to leave the lodge and head to Johannesburg in order to catch our long flight home.
I left Africa without my Kudu, but it gives me a great reason to return.
At the last North Texas SCI banquet, my father purchased a bird and Plains Game hunt lined out for South Africa in August 2010, and I may go to settle the score with that Kudu bull.
Overall, I have to rate this trip as absolutely amazing. I would recommend either outfitter to anyone considering a South African safari. The professional hunters and staff were incredibly skilled; the accommodations and meals were excellent. Despite the long commute, I am planning and saving for my next African safari for Kudu.