Zayne told us three things: “He is going to try and kill one of us, don’t be more than a meter away from the guy in front of or behind you, and when he comes, forget all the videos you have seen and shoot at BLACK because the only thing that is going to stop him is a bullet to the brain.” Professional hunter (PH) Zayne’s 500 Nitro Express was loaded and ready for the challenge. I wasn’t sure if I was ready, but when those words are told to you as you stand in Zimbabwe’s thick mopane jess (medium level bush) while following up a wounded Cape buffalo that your hunting partner tagged too high on the shoulder the night prior, you listen like you have never listened before. The next two hours covering three hundred yards tested me to the limits of my nerves, but that is what you go for… the adventure!
That moment was one I will relish for a long time, the outcome was in our favor and not the buffs… that time. Only one thing on earth is more dangerous than a wounded Cape buffalo and that is a hungry polar bear. I will probably never up the ante on that bit of excitement but adventures in Africa come in more forms than just wounded dangerous game. Many hunters cut their teeth on small game, moving up to deer, moose and elk here in the states while all the time, truth be told, they dream of a trip to the Dark Continent.
Prices of trips being what they are today, it is actually less expensive to fly abroad, spend a week hunting plains-game, and arrange for taxidermy and return of trophies than it is to hunt brown bear in Alaska. Even mountain caribou hunts in British Columbia are considerably higher than a plains-game hunt in South Africa. I now represent concessions in the Eastern Cape and Free State of South Africa, and I can tell you: with a little foresight and knowledge of the animals available, a plethora of unique animals can be pursued and taken for less than many hunts out west. Including airfare, accommodations, food and other charges incurred typical to a safari. But more about that in my later tales of adventure.
Most hunters that make the eighteen hour flight to Africa begin with plains game. So many different species, so many animals. None of the meat goes to waste. It is distributed locally via butcher shops or directly to the natives. Protein is precious. Not everyone is a trophy hunter but the PHs will steer you toward mature animals that are representative of the species or on the downhill side of reproduction. Males dominate the bag though some females are taken… Gemsbok come to mind, as their horns are on average longer than the males’ thicker-based black spears of death. This is one of the few plains game animals that can kill a lion. The rapier sword-like horns are capable of puncturing tissue in the blink of an eye.
As this is my initial article submitted for your enjoyment and education I must admit I could regale you with tales from each and every stalk. Most being successful but some where the rifle was never placed to my shoulder, leaving me laughing or just shaking my head. It’s hunting, not shooting. The adventure is not only in “the moment of truth” but the preparation that begins months in advance. All who venture on this quest for excitement need to know that if you wound an animal, heinous as that is but nonetheless a possible reality, you’ve purchased it. We know that we owe it to our quarry to be the best marksman we can be, to deliver a swift and accurate shot either by bow or gun.
To help me prepare I attended Gunsite in Paulden, Arizona prior to my hunts in 2003 and 2006. Check out their website… Gunsite.com and consider some formal training prior to heading overseas. They fill you with knowledge, expertise and most of all an even greater confidence in your shooting abilities. You learn what your rifle can do as well as your limitations. One of the concessions (farms) that I represent in South Africa is strictly for bowhunters. Spot and stalk in the morning and sit the “hides” in the afternoon. Same rules apply, you wound it you bought it. Practice, practice, practice.
My first trip to Africa was special in that I had a mentor who had “been there done that” three times prior. Cliff Johnson accompanied me on the trip. Cliff had beaten cancer three times, was a diabetic and a young 74 years of age. When people tell me they just cannot sit that long in a plane or “it’s just too far” I am reminded of Cliff standing in the aisle of the 747 giving himself an insulin injection. If you want it bad enough you can do anything. We landed in Cape Town and then flew on to Port Elizabeth for easy pick up by our host and PH, to be driven inland to the Bedford area of South Africa. As is typical our rifles were sighted in that afternoon in final prep for the next morning’s hunt.
East Cape Kudu was up first on my list of animals that I chose to pursue. There are five species of kudu in Africa and all are elusive, powerful and magnificent trophies. The “grey ghost” has spiral horns that end with ivory tips when mature. Elk-like in size and capable of bounding ten feet vertically from a standing leap, they are amazing animals. Len, the assistant PH, drove us north to introduce me to Noel Ross who would be guiding me from concession to concession covering hundreds and hundreds of hectares. (One hectare is equivalent to two and a half acres). Our hunting method was spot and stalk from the “bakkie”, the consummate hunting vehicle of Africa, similar to a Landrover. Powerful and efficient.
From over a half mile away a nice bull was spotted and Len and I exited the truck to begin the stalk down through a serpentine river valley. The kudu stood broadside facing the west as the morning sun peeked over the hillside reflecting off his ivory tipped horns. My angle of shooting was literally sixty degrees uphill. I had to reposition myself, incorporating a branch to steady my Browning A-Bolt. It pushed 180 grains of Nosler partition at over 2,600 feet per second through the onside shoulder of the animal, to lodge under the skin of the far. It was a one hundred seventy yard shot to watch him take his last two steps. One and done.
While awaiting assistance to get him back to camp I soaked in the vastness of the area. You could see forever up on that hillside. I heard a distinct “bark” and asked Noel what was making that strange noise. He grinned and said, “A baboon getting a hiding!” Photos were taken but the memory is burned in to my brain for all time. Then, I shouted my sister’s name to the heavens as that was all she asked of me. A simple request, and fulfilled. Others asked me to bring them mementos such as a jar of African soil. That individual, per her humble request, earned something even more unique. An 800 year old sharpened spear head used by African bushman that was found on the next concession.
The adventure continues in my next article when the gemsbok walks in to my sights.
I am privileged to act as the USA representative liaison for WRSafaris in South Africa.
Feel free to phone me at 262-269-6339 with any questions, my services are free of charge
Please, check out my website www.thiemansafaris.com
“Totsiens” for now, Stan Thieman D.V.M. (ret.)