In case you are wondering what the weather is like here during winter in South Africa, it is a low of 35 degrees at night, sunny and a high of 65-67 degrees during the day, every day so far and every day as far as the forecasters can see. Pretty good hunting weather. This is as little variation in the weather as I have ever seen. Our morning hunts go about 6 hours and our evening hunts are about 3 hours so we are going through a lot of sunscreen. You guys using any sunscreen?
In case you are wondering who is in charge on the hunt, it is Jody. Jody is an old hunting pro, right? She determines what we can shoot and what we cannot. After all, this trip was her idea that she cooked up when I was turning 50 last year. And you know what, I am okay with it. She has a broader slate of game animals we can shoot than I would have cooked up if she was in Denver and I was in charge. What are the criteria? While not all of these have been explicitly stated, my take on the rules is that it cannot be too cute, look like a horse, be too much of a sitting duck, be smaller than our dog Sadie, or some combination of these. The no go list includes zebra (horse & pretty), giraffe (sitting duck and pretty), ostrich (sitting duck), hippo (not sure, but they are a sitting duck) and things like the duiker and steenbok deer that are no bigger than Sadie. So that leaves us baboon, jackal, hyena, warthog, bushpig, impala, blesbuck, bushbuck, hartebeest, wildebeest, gemsbuck, waterbuck, nyala, eland, sable, roan and cape buffalo. But, they have to be good sized animals, no medium sized ones. This is a good time to use the candy store analogy. I love my wife!
In cases you are wondering who gets to shoot which animals, here is how it is working. Well, we all get a warthog and an impala, which are all over the place, for free. Rudy and Graylen set their priorities first and that generally includes gemsbuck, which are beautiful with incredibly long horns, kudu (similar) and wildebeest. I said that’s fine, I will take the “all other” category. My real priorities are buffalo, roan and sable. After three days though, we have not seen any of these. So I add in the other category like waterbuck, eland and blesbuck.
We started the morning off relatively quickly with Graylen making a nice shot on a good warthog at relatively close range. The cover is so dense here that most shots have been relatively close. Rudy’s warthog from yesterday was bigger and apparently they only shoot 1-2 as big as Rudy’s all year. (Reference Pumba photo from yesterday). His impala will be hard to match as well. Rudy can be really difficult this way…
An hour or two later, our guide made a terrific spot on a big water buck under some trees near the top of a hill. This was a 210 yard shot, more like we would have in Colorado. Our guide has told us to aim low on the shoulder on the animals here vs. Colorado where we try to shoot just behind the shoulder. I should excel at this, but I made a mistake in lining up. I aimed low on the near shoulder, but failed to take into account that this leg was stepped forward, which makes it so the mass of the animal is not so much behind that shoulder. As a result, I shot a little too far forward. I had to take two shots before taking this water buck. I am now considered the not-so-good shooter in the family. Still, I was happy.
We had no kills during the afternoon hunt but Rudy had a riveting close call that we were all able to watch through our binos. We have seen wildebeests, but they have usually been in a group and going 40 miles an hour, scared by our approach. Rudy and Petrus (our guide) put the stalk on a lone wildebeest we spotted from a distance. Rudy and Petrus ultimately ended up 40 yards from this bull, standing in the wide open, gun up, facing each other for what seemed an eternity, but was more like 15 seconds. He looked big to me and as I looked through my binoculars at the faceoff, I kept whispering “bang.” But my coaxing did not work. The bull ran off and the guys came back. Petrus said to wait for a bigger one.
Sorry for the long version writeup today. The jet lag is fading, my energy level is improving, and you guys know I tend to write a lot.
Taylor – your presence on this trip is greatly missed!
Day 4 – Father’s Day, Part 1
Everything started off with wishes of happy father’s day, you get to shoot first and that type of thing. This continued all day and it was not until dinner that the family realized that Father’s Day is in a week. Oh well, it is good to celebrate it twice.
The morning hunt took us all over the place and game was everywhere. We went up to the high point of the property to hopefully find a buffalo track. While we did not find any, we saw a group of 25 wildebeest bulls charging through the thick woods. This was quite a sight. They are large and dark and just have this presence about them that impresses. I have never seen one stop and look back. This is going to be a hard one for Rudy to get. After setting a game camera by the water hole in this area, to learn more about these wildebeests, we pressed on.
About an hour later, we jumped a nice nyala bull that kept moving away, but not too fast. Frequently, animals soon disappear in the dense cover, but not this time. Graylen was determined and made a quick 50 yard shot, right through the heart. The deep cover was not conducive to pictures, so we carried it to a vehicle, and headed to a more open area for pictures. As usual, we called the cavalry on the radio who would come help us with the animal and take it back for processing. I have never seen such professionalism in the photography of the animals and the handling of the animals. For example, they never drag an animal. They often put a big tarp with handles under it and a group of guys will carry it and lift it into the pickup truck. They do not want to damage the hide or horns in the slightest.
We took pictures of Graylen’s mature nyala bull. As usual, the rest of us did a selfie with Graylen and her kill in the background to sort of say, hey we were there and show how they were being photographed. As we started to put our things back in the pickup truck, Petrus yelled “grab your gun!” I always respond quickly to that command from a guide, especially when Rudy and I are sharing a rifle. He had spotted baboons running across the meadow. I set up on the sticks and made a 350 yard going away shot on a baboon.
Driving home, we ran into a group of impalas and they were clearly not too worried about us as they are rutting. Graylen has not shot one yet, but she told me to go. After all, it was Father’s Day, or so she thought. Some bucks sparred including one good one that caught our eye. They would run back and forth, into and out of sight. It was hard to reacquire which one was the big one, which for an impala meant he was 2 inches longer and 2 inches wider than the other bucks. As we got closer, the impala started to move off. Fortunately, the biggest buck ended up at the rear and stopped in a gap in the trees, giving me my opportunity at about 75 yards. The Lazzeroni round passed through his heart and still he was able to run 75 yards before dying. With these smaller animals, there is not enough resistance to cause the bullet to expand and so the bullet passes through without doing as much damage as we would see in Colorado with deer and elk. And you don’t hear that “twap!” noise like when you hit an elk. This was a good impala and I was happy. We headed back for lunch and a nap.
The afternoon hunt started at 3 pm. We drove to a high point and glassed for a while. With the heavy cover and the leaves, uncharacteristic for this time of year, still on the trees, it was hard to see much except for the giraffes. There is no cover tall enough for the giraffes and we see several groups every time we go out.
Our pace of hunting was to, on average, shoot one animal every hunt. With three kills this morning, we were getting ahead of expected pace a bit. Graylen, Rudy and I are, except for impala and warthog, each after different things. We sort of have our assignments. And we see so many animals each time we go out that each of us is thrown to the front frequently when we run into one of the species that we are after. Many of the stalks are unsuccessful due to the thick foliage and the fact that many animals are on the run and don’t stop to look back. This particular afternoon, Rudy is chasing wildebeest. Then we get onto a group of eland bulls, but I don’t seem to have a chance. Both wildebeest and eland seem like ghosts, that never stop. Light is fading so we start driving home. Petrus stops the truck. He sees a bunch of eland that are not on the move. I hop out of the truck, a big Toyota Land Cruiser with open seats, and get on the sticks with Petrus talking into my right ear. There are 3 eland standing near each other in a gap in the trees, at about 175 yards. With the low light, I am having a hard time distinguishing between the animals and even the parts of the different animals. He says to shoot the gray one in the middle, vs. the lighter colored ones. He is facing me with animals to his left and right. I don’t think I can shoot. The other animals move enough to create some room between him and my bull steps left and shows me his shoulder. Boom! Thwap! That’s the sound I am looking for! Joshua and Petrus yell you hit him and start running! You have to keep up with your guide so I put my rifle sling around my neck and shoulder and break into a sprint. They are worried about finding him, or blood before dark. After a minute, we find him on the ground, about 75 yards from where he had been standing. I put a finishing round in him. Petrus goes crazy. “This the biggest eland bull I have ever had a part in killing.” Because these elands had been ghosts, I had never really gotten a good look at one until now, and totally did not understand their size. Petrus judged his weight to be about 1800 pounds. Graylen, Rudy and Jody caught up and we celebrated, called the cavalry for help, and took flash photos.
Unlike us at Big Mountain, they do not have a winch for hauling animals into the back of their pickup truck. We use this for 400-800 pound elk. This was 1800 pounds. Holes were dug with shovels to back the tires into to lower the level of the truck as it backed up to the eland. And then ten guys struggled for a few minutes, ultimately getting the big bull into the back of the small pickup.
We headed home, a few hours late for dinner. Soon after our arrival at the lodge, the power went out. In South Africa, they shut the power down for each area for 2-3 hours each day, at different times each day, because of power shortages. We had a nice candle light dinner, enjoying the delicious kudu that Graylen had shot a few days earlier. It was a great end to a great Father’s day, part 1
Day 5 – Father’s Day Becomes Groundhog Day
Things are becoming monotonous. You wake up every day to having coffee, a great breakfast, watching the same old unbelievable sunrise that lasts for 30-40 minutes. Okay, maybe I can last another week. When you don’t have any clouds, every sunrise and sunset here is spectacular. And one of the benefits of hunting is that you are usually up and out to see both.
We set out as usual this morning at 7 and we take turns being on point, Graylen for gemsbuck, Rudy for wildebeest, and I put the scope on a few warthogs. At this point, however, I won’t shoot one unless it is bigger than the kids’. Aside from the internal family competitiveness, I am starting to understand the economics of the hunt a little more clearly as well. While it only costs $300 to shoot a warthog, the taxidermy work is $900. Now I am really willing to hold out for only a monster, since we have two in the barn already. We are not seeing many gemsbuck, and the wildebeest thing is getting almost comical as to how we see them blaze by us all the time, but never stop in view. My enthusiasm for seeing Rudy kill a wildebeest continues to grow.
Rudy explained to me his strategy this morning. Rudy is very smart and purposeful. He said he has been sort of laying back and letting Gray and I do our thing so the latter part of the hunt is going to be all about him, and then he can do whatever he wants. He acknowledges that part of all of this is just the way things have worked out, e.g. how a good eland bull finally presented itself and I shot it last night, and not that I shot something he was supposed to shoot. Rudy explains to me that I am for the most part done.
We chased a lot of animals this morning, but never had the right opportunities to get set up on Mr. Right. No kill stories? Don’t worry, I will talk about something else. Being the research guy, and ranch guy, I like learning about how the operation at Rhinoland works. One observation is related to elephants. If you are thinking about getting one, I would advise against it. They destroy everything. We drove down a road that the elephants had traveled down recently and dozens of trees had been pulled down. It looked like a war zone. Another aspect of the ranch thing is that their valuable animals may be killed in many ways. First, there are cheetah tracks all about and we have been instructed to take matters into our own hands if we see one. Second, animals kill other animals. We saw the carcass of a medium sized rhino bull, killed by a larger rhino. When they spar, it is often for keeps. And the prior year multiple black rhinos had been killed by elephants. Third is poaching. Every morning, one of the employees drives the 40 miles of fence line looking for human footprints to see if poachers, who are after rhinos, have entered the property. Four rhinos have been poached here in the past few years. And we heard a riveting story of 25 guys and a helicopter catching 3 poachers and their get away driver just last year. When a white rhino hunt costs $70,000 and a black rhino hunt costs $260,000, that is a big loss to a place like Rhinoland when they lose one.
What I quickly realize as well is that the best possible thing for these rhinos, other than if there were no humans or fences on the entire African continent, is places like Rhinoland. For example, they have a dozen black rhinos which they look over quite closely. They have mommas, dads, kids and adolescents. Their payback is that they sell a black rhino hunt about every 5 years. And hundreds of private outfits like Rhinoland do the same thing and as a result a few thousand black rhinos are kept alive. And many thousands more if you count white rhinos. Hunting and conservation at work!
Okay, back to hunting. We returned, ready to hunt, at 3 pm. Petrus tells us that there has been a change in plans. One of the workers spotted a sable somewhere we had not been yet, on the far end of the property. Remember, there are only about ten sables on the property and we have not even seen a sable track up to this point. Petrus tells us we are going after sable. Whose list is it on? You bet, dad! I tell Rudy that he can shoot if we find it. No, he won’t have any of it. Rudy’s strategy of laying in the weeds, however, is starting to wear thin.
We drive on the public road for 6-7 miles to access Rhinoland via the back, because rocky terrain does not allow the roads from the lodge to reach here. Pretty quickly, the rifle is in Rudy’s hands as we see wildebeest, and blesbok (which Rudy took off my “all other” list to put on his list). As Petrus says, “he is a shooter,” the blesbok moves into thick cover. Nothing doing for Rudy. Despite not killing anything since the second day, Rudy has had a lot of action with gun up a few dozen times.
About 30 minutes later, we round a corner in a road and Rudy says “there he is,” and he puts the rifle in my hand. Miraculously, we had come up on the sable standing in the middle of a ranch road, about 300 yards out. I got him in the scope and was instantly wowed by his long horns and beauty. You go through that punishingly awkward debate of how much time and effort do I put into getting the most rock solid rifle rest possible for the conditions vs. shooting him asap before he walks off into cover ten feet away. It was a long shot so I took ten seconds or so to optimize my rest. I felt solid, cross hairs on his shoulder, and squeezed. Boom and thwap! Okay, not as big of a thwap as the night before on the eland, but I knew I hit it. It jumped and ran. Once we got to where he was standing, Petrus, Joshua and I followed the likely path and found him after about 75 yards. As I think about it now, my water buck, impala, eland and sable all ran ~75 yards before going down. Up close, the sable’s coat and horns looked even more impressive than how they appeared in the scope. I have found it to usually be the opposite hunting elk in Colorado. I was ecstatic and Graylen, Rudy and Jody were all there to experience it and celebrate with me.
Once things settled down, Rudy told me “Okay, Dad, now you are really done,” and “Don’t touch the rifle. It is mine.” Father’s Day, for Rudy, has become Groundhog’s Day.
Morning of Day 6 – Beasty Boy
It was a dark and dreary morning in sunny Africa. The Blackhawks had just won the Stanley Cup. Jody was elated and the rest of us were depressed. We fought through the pain and left to go hunting. We started by glassing from a high bluff and this was clearly a more active morning than yesterday. We quickly saw eland, kudu and nyala bulls. Now that we are tagged out on those species, they seem to be getting braver. About an hour into the hunt, we worked through a relatively more open area, meaning it was not dense jungle. Petrus spotted a lone wildebeest bull about 200 yards, slightly obscured by a bush. Rudy pulled up on “our rifle,” and asked “is he a shooter?” Rudy is exceptionally good with getting on a target quickly. Petrus said yes and Rudy fired a moment later. Thwap! Our favorite sound. Rudy, Petrus and Joshua ran off while the rest of us waited behind.
Joshua came to get us a few minutes later, arms raised high. The wiley wilde-beasty boy was dead, dead at last. I started singing to myself “Ding dong, the witch is dead” (from Wizard of Oz). Okay, I know, but they do sort of have this evil look to them. Finally, Rudy got ‘er done! We had watched Rudy chase wildebeest so many times and finally one bull had stood still long enough to give Rudy his opportunity.
Petrus had made an unbelievable spot, a spot the five of us failed to make. He has done this in difficult conditions on many occasions including my eland and water buck, Graylen’s kudu, and several other animals. (Joshua, our skinner, has made a lot of great spots as well). A great guide like Petrus is invaluable. He is also a great guy to educate us on Africa, Rhinoland and the game here. After all, we don’t have to just learn about deer and elk, we have to learn about 30 different species here. He reminds me of Adam Wells and Tom Hazelton – great guides, fun to be with, educate you, totally look out for you, and never criticize you or others.
Rudy had made a great shot with the bullet passing through both shoulders. Rudy has fired 3 rounds and has 3 animals. I am not sure if all were heart shots, but if they were not, it was close. After the kill, Rudy appeared quite satisfied, saying he had successfully avenged the death of Mufasa (Lion King).
Rudy and Graylen enjoy messing with me every time they use my iPhone to take pictures. My iPhone wallpaper will become a certain body part of an animal, and they will take pictures of mom and dad in the most embarrassing ways. Rudy and Graylen also decided to take trick photography to an extreme and sat 20 yards behind Rudy’s bull, to make themselves look tiny (see attached photo). Rudy asked me to grab another box of shells for the Lazzeroni after lunch. We only had 7 rounds left with us. He fired 3 zeroing in the gun, and 3 hunting. I fired 7 and have 5 animals. The Lazzeroni has performed admirably in Africa whether on 50 yard or 350 yard shots. It killed an 1800 pound eland and it went through both shoulders on the thick and tough shoulders of the sable last night and wildebeest today. Thank you to Bruce Goff and Tom Hazelton for converting us over to Lazzeroni shooters 7-8 years ago.
While I am saying thank you’s, I have to say a big thank you to my wonderful wife. Every day she starts the day by saying “Happy birthday!” which relates to my 50th birthday in March of last year, around the time she cooked up the plans for this safari to Africa. I never would have had the audacity to cook up such a trip. Her knowledge of hunting has ramped up exponentially during this trip. She has been with us for every minute of the hunts and has been wonderfully supportive of Graylen, Rudy and I during this hunt. She has given us the opportunity for the hunt of a lifetime. We are loving it all and don’t want it to end. I thank God for my wife!
Day 7 – It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas
The afternoon hunt started with traffic on the interstate. About a dozen giraffe were in the road, and they did not want to go out. Once traffic passed, we continued on, and I launched my first cheesy one liner of the afternoon – “seems like we are in giraffic park!” Ha!
We soon found a dead impala which can be a big deal here, due to the extreme concern around predators. The investigation was underway. Petrus inspected the impala closely finding puncture wounds on its neck and one hind eaten on. It appears that it was a carical or a cheetah. Carical must be brave suckers because they weight about one-third of what an impala weighs, but they must punch well for their weight. Petrus and Joshua cut limbs off a tree, climbed the tree and set out a trail camera to see what the culprit looked like when they came back for seconds.
Our target animal list has shrunk dramatically – Rudy is after blesbok and red hartebeest, Graylen is after impala and gemsbuck, and I am around for moral support, and in case a super big warthog presents himself. The gemsbuck seems, literally and figuratively, like a unicorn, except with two horns. We have only seen a handful of gemsbuck males the entire week, and only seen blesbok males once, on the outskirts where we shot the sable.
We drove around Rhinoland and saw many animals, but had very few opportunities on the good bucks or bulls. As usual, we would go to gun up from time to time, but the fast animals that never seemed to stop and look back, and the thick cover made each time seem like a low probability to seal the deal. At last light, we spotted a very good impala buck with about 15 other impalas in a relatively open area. We would get on them, they would move, and we would keep repeating the process. We would have to re-acquire which one was the big buck each time. Graylen had him in the scope at times, but could not get him in time before the group would move on again. Finally, they were out of range and we waved off.
We started driving back to the lodge, when Joshua spotted a black rhino. Petrus approached it with the truck, and they would call various things to the black rhino both luring it in and trying to keep it from charging the vehicle. This was a dance that went on for about 6-7 minutes. Dancing in the Dark, by Bruce Springsteen! Okay, I tried to get photos and video of the black rhino, but it was really dark. If you ever get pursued by a black rhino in the dark, use your flash camera and they will run away.
We headed back to the lodge for real now. When you get out of the truck, the first room you enter in the lodge is the bar, and that is where the evening festivities. Our routine is talk before dinner, one or two drinks for Jody, Rudy and I, and a concerted effort to try to get Graylen, who is of age in Africa, something to drink. It is comical how many things we have tried and everything tastes terrible to her. I guess you need to be careful what you wish for.
Dinner was held in a room that I, heretofore, did not know existed. It was a boma, which is typically an outdoors room I am told. I am not totally sure what that means, but this was around room in the center of the building with no roof. There were animal heads and skulls on the wall, African art, tables for the five of us, and a fire pit in the center in which logs were burning. You were inside, out of the wind, but had a fire in front of you and you could look up to the stars.
After dinner, we headed outside and Petrus explained to us the Southern Cross in the sky and how you use the cross and two other stars to determine south. You are looking at a different set of stars down here. There is no big dipper, but there is the Southern Cross.
At some point during the evening, Jody had given me her opinion on my previous email on the hunt, and it hurt a little, but only because my wife had spoken truth. She said my recounting of the hunting sounded like one of those Christmas letters where your kids are perfect and only great things happened with the family all year. It is not that I told the story inaccurately, like Rudy flat out missed 12 animals before he hit one, or shot more than I said, but I had left some things out. It is not that I am ashamed of these things, but I left out a few of the uglier things that I do not want non-hunters to hear. Hunting is not always clean and neat, and everything happens perfectly to plan. So in an effort to be more authentic and complete, I will cover the few things I have left out up to this point.
The first is that most of the hunting here is done from a vehicle. I have written in a way that did not make it clear if we were on foot or in a vehicle. There are hundreds of miles of ranch roads, and you drive a lot hoping to spot game. Sometimes you shoot from the vehicle, which is well set up for this, and occasionally you go on foot to pursue prey or quietly go check on a honey hole. In Colorado, this would not be looked on favorably. Down here, it is the way it is done. Jody’s observation was that it is the only way. The cover is so thick, that you are lucky to have a lane where you can see 50 yards. The cover is also often thorny trees that are so stout you worry they will poke a hole in the tire of the truck if you run over them. You just cannot walk through much of the foliage here. And the animals, once alerted to your presence, are on the run and quickly escape view something like 95% of the time. We, on the other hand, have to identify the species, is it a male or female (generally both have horns), and is it a good one? By the time we figure that out, if we figure it out, it is long gone. There are also lots of dangerous things here in the woods. Most of the time you are probably okay, but you do have to worry about cheetahs, leopards, cape buffalo, angry elephants, rhinos and snakes. This last point was made clear around noon on our way back to the lodge today. I saw a dead wildebeest. Upon inspection, it appears that this 400 pound animal had been bitten by a snake, as evidenced by the fang wounds in its throat. And again, while I am not embarrassed about it, I am sure some people might look down on this method of hunting.
There were two difficult points during my own hunts this week, and both happened on the same day. I mentioned that I shot a baboon going away at 350 yards. I did not provide a lot of detail. My guide told me to grab my gun and shoot one. Here, they shoot them like we shoot coyotes back at home. The baboon died instantly on the shot, but when we drove up to it, a baby baboon popped up still clinging to its mother, looking a little too human. The baby was picked up, and handed to Graylen. It looked at Graylen like here adopted mother. Personally, this was the low point in my hunting career. Fortunately, a zoo not too far away, picked him up, will hand raise him, and he will live a relatively cushy life at the zoo. The second hard time was when I shot the sable. After we found it, shot through the shoulder and lungs, it was fatally wounded, but still alive. Normally, I would put another round in the animal and end things quickly. My guide did not want me to shoot again. I had to respect my guide. It took another 4-5 minutes for the beautiful sable to die.
As I sit here waiting for photos to download to send with this email, I looked at one of my quotes of the day that comes in my e-mail. It says:
“Confront the dark parts of yourself, and work to banish them with illumination. Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing.” – August Wilson. Okay, demons is perhaps a little too strong, but I feel better now.
Day 8 – African Winter
Wednesday morning started out beautiful once again, but the temperature has declined 10 degrees or so, and a strong wind has settled in. Maybe I was wrong about the weather never changing. Both the morning and afternoon hunts were quieter than usual as many animals were bedded down, staying out of the wind. Still we saw many animals. A highlight was seeing a few 53-54″ kudus. My favorites out here are the gemsbuck, kudu and sable, for their long (40-55″), dramatic horns, and beautiful coats. Overall, things have slowed down a lot from the prior few days. Today was the first day we did not shoot something. We investigated the impala kill, which was eaten further, but the action was not captured on our trail camera. We reset the camera.
On our way back to lunch, Petrus seemed to be taking the long way. We saw another ranch vehicle, Petrus swerved off the road and down a little driveway to the river. They served us a nice picnic lunch by the river, which is mostly dried up this time of year. Still, it was beautiful and quite a nice surpise.
At one point, Jody’s hat was taken clean off by a tree branch. This reminds me about the driving around the ranch. Many branches are at about the level of the passengers in the back of the big Land Cruiser which means me, Jody, Rudy and our tracker Joshua often have incoming. While Petrus swerves the truck a lot to miss branches, they do hit us from time to time and you have to stay vigilant. Commonly, you are looking to the sides for animals, but you have to bring your gaze back to center to look for oncoming tree branches. The worst and most common seem to be this tree with 1-2 ½ inch spikes. I don’t know the actual name of the tree, but I call it Jaws. Late in the afternoon, Rudy and I might drift off to sleep sometimes, but I would only do it for 5-10 seconds, wake up to see what is coming, see an open stretch, shut my eyes for 5-10 seconds, wake up, and repeat. It is not a restful sleep.
We don’t speak the same language, but we love Joshua. He is a good-natured and gentle man, who does anything for the group including doing a great job spotting animals, identifying tracks, helping take care of animals we shoot, and partnering with Petrus whenever he sets off on a walk with one of the hunters. Petrus will radio back and Joshua will drive the rest of us to meet him.
Our list of important animals to get has shrunk dramatically to blesbok, gemsbok and red hartebeest. While all have been scarce, we did come upon a group of 9 hartebeests at 400 yards at the open area along the high power electric lines that run near one end of the property. The big bull was surrounded by cows and we were not able to make him out until just before he stepped into nearby cover. It was a close call on one of Rudy’s most desired animals. As we returned to the lodge, I was frozen to the core, despite wearing everything I had. It was 30 or so degrees when we got back, but driving in an open air vehicle on a windy day makes it far worse. Graylen cheated by sitting up front with the guide where there was heat. After a great dinner of eland, considered the best tasting game animal here, we headed off to our rooms, exhausted.
Correction from prior story: It was Graylen who spotted the wonderful sable I was able to shoot a few days ago.
Fun Animal Facts:
Giraffe Anatomy – Giraffes have 7 neck vertebrae, the same as a human. Theirs are a lot longer, maybe a foot or so. As a result, they cannot bend their necks very sharply. Males can lift their heads straight up to get the highest leaves, while females cannot. They can only lift their head to the side somewhat due to their anatomy. God made them this way so they graze at different levels in the trees, and can better survive periods of drought.
Hippos – Contrary to public opinion, hippos cannot swim.
Warthog – The tails of warthogs stand straight up when they run in order to allow their young ones to follow them better when running through tall grass.
Bucks and Bulls – Bucks and bulls are determined by size of the species. A nyala male is a bull as is anything the size of the nyala or larger. Any male smaller than a nyala is a buck. The male water buck I shot, therefore is a bull. There will be a quiz later.
Horns – The plains game here have horns, which last a lifetime, and not antlers, like deer and elk in Colorado which shed their antlers every year. A difficult thing in hunting is that for many of the species here, both males and females have horns which makes it even harder for newbies like us to identify something to shoot. Our first question now is whether it is a male or female, then is it a good one? Yesterday, Graylen lined up on gorgeous gemsbuck, also called a unicorn by me due to its scarcity. She let it walk off. It was a female.
Older and Shorter – The longest horned males here are not always the oldest animals. Horn length reaches its highest point at a certain age, and then it stops growing. Old boys will wear their horns down somewhat so they may be a few inches shorter than somewhat younger bucks or bulls.
Day 9 Morning – Call to Action
We set off this morning bundled up because it was even colder. I wore long underwear for the first time and handled it better. The wind kicked up and the song remained the same at first – not many animals. However, after about 45 minutes, we pulled into a meadow and 5 pigs started running. My guide yelled the one on the right is a good one. I shot him just before he made it into the cover. He was okay on one side, and broken off on the other. As suggested by Andringa, I am going to call him Mike Ricci, of Colorado Avalanche fame. We took pictures relatively quickly as we were anxious to continue the hunt. Interestingly, my Lazzeroni round, which has gone all the way through several 350-500 pound animals, did not make it through this tough, 75 pound wart hog. That’s Mike Ricci for you!
About 5 minutes after setting off again, Petrus stopped the truck and said let’s walk. So we all walked down one road, and then another. Petrus pointed out a large leopard track. Soon after, something ran and I heard the guide say “jackal.” As quick as could be, Rudy had his gun up on a tripod and I could see something stopped in the road, but my view was partly obscured. Boom, Rudy dropped this jackal in his tracks. When Rudy shoots, I do not worry about his intended target running away. I was surprised by how small it was – about the size of a coyote or even smaller. Hyaenas are much larger. I guess we violated the rule of not shooting something smaller than Sadie, but maybe it is okay if it is a predator. And besides, the guide told us to. It was sort of cute, not the way I expected it to look. One side of the animal looked totally fine. If you flipped it, it had such a big hole you were surprised the head stayed on. Petrus was glad we had shot a predator. It was 8 am and we already had two animals down. Quick pics and on we went.
The action continued. A gemsbuck stopped in the road a few hundred yards out. I could not see it very well. Instead of glassing it, I was focused on watching Graylen. The gemsbuck ran away. Gray did not shoot because it only had one horn. See, I told you they reminded me of unicorns! It was a close call on one of our most difficult pursuits.
Moving on, we ran into another beautiful kudu bull. Then we saw baboons. Marius, the owner of Rhinoland, spoke of how when baboons get into large groups of 100-150, they would slowly go through an area and denude it, eating every insect, plant and animal in their way. I thought that unlikely here given we had not seen more than 3-4 together. Here was a group of 50 that crossed the road, and I am not even sure we saw the whole group.
Before we even made it to where the baboons had crossed in the distance, a wildebeest stopped in the road, went left and then doubled back. Petrus stopped the Land Cruiser and he and Graylen were off. I am thinking – what is going on? I soon realized that it must have been sick or injured because we were not pursuing another wildebeest. They made their way through the mixed cover and we lost sight of them. After about five minutes, we heard a boom, followed by another shot a minute later. Joshua told us we could go to where they were, about 400 yards out. Graylen shot a wildebeest whose left front leg was broken at the knee. The animal was emaciated and in bad condition. Graylen had shot a wildebeest, a compassion kill. While we won’t mount it, Graylen will have a nice European mount of this bull. We called the pit crew to pick up the third animal of the day, took some pictures, and moved on as quickly as we could.
We have looked over many hundreds of impalas trying to find an impala that would beat Rudy’s. Petrus’ task was a tall one. Petrus made a great spot in dense brush near the small lake, and kept following it. It was about to move out of sight, when Petrus whistled to stop it, and Graylen, my other high confidence shooter, dropped it. We dragged it to an open area and took photos. Here came the defining moment – the tape measure came out. It measured 22 ¾”, the exact same as Rudy’s. We had a tie. I am okay with that because it will keep the smack talk down and help family peace. Four animals down on the morning.
We pressed on. It was a beautiful day and it warmed up so that we could take a few layers off. We have not seen a cloud, and I mean a single cloud, for six days. We then checked the impala kill and there was nothing left of it. There were hyaena and carical tracks nearby, but we will see what the trail camera photos show. We pressed on again. It was about time to head back for lunch, but we soon saw two gemsbuck through the trees, and Graylen and Petrus went on foot. They evaded them and we kept following their tracks and trying to catch up with them for another 30-40 minutes with no luck. We never had a look at their horns. We headed back for lunch, thrilled with the excitement of the morning. It is time to stop writing and take a nap.
Day 9 Afternoon – Deep in the Heart of Africa
Power was out from 10 am to 3 pm due to power sharing. We all met at 3 pm for our afternoon ritual – coffee. Once we are fully caffeinated, then we go hunting. Fortunately, power came back on just in time to make coffee. We left and drove by one of the small lakes. The mystery of the dead impala was solved by the trail camera which showed a carical coming back to the kill, and a few hyaenas which dragged it a ways. Along the lake, we saw the five hippos. We stopped and Petrus revved the engine. In response, the big hippo bull showed us his teeth in a menacing way. It was either that or he was yawning. Not sure. We also scouted out where we could make some 500 yard shots on management impalas, or small horned bucks the owner would like us to shoot. If this happens, it will be at the end of the hunt.
We moved on and drove for another hour or so. We were looking for the red hartebeests from the prior day. This was Petrus’ plan. My preference would have been to go to the far corner of the ranch and look for the male blesboks, which I thought presented a better chance of success. I kept this to myself though. We drove around near the massive power line corridor which ran power to the rest of Africa from a coal burning plant about 15 miles away. Apparently, they are not making enough power. We crossed it once, drove around for 15 minutes and then drove to the power alley again, about a mile further away. There they were – the red hartebeests, about 300 yards out. We all glassed them and Rudy got on the rifle. I was waiting to hear from Petrus which one was the bull. This took what seemed like an eternity, but it was probably 15 seconds. Animals started moving off of the open area into the dense cover to the right. Finally, it came – “the last one on the left is the bull and he is a good one.” I was right next to Rudy and kept repeating it. “Farthest one on the left, farthest one on the left…” Rudy asked a clarifying question about which way he was looking and I responded. I then covered my ears because the Lazzeroni has quite a bark. Boom! Thwap! The animal jumped, stumbled and went about 10 yards and went down. Petrus had somehow found again the only bull we had seen. Rudy had the opportunity, and made the most of it. He was a big bull. Petrus guessed that Rudy had exploded his heart with the shot. Okay, I am sure there are some things that are wrong with Rudy, but it is not his shooting. We drove to the animal, celebrated and took a few photos. Graylen told me to entitle this installment, “Deep in the Heart of Africa” to be sarcastic since here we were near these massive power lines.
Light was fading and power alley did not seem the best place for photos so we loaded the hartebeest into the truck to drive elsewhere for photos. Petrus drove at a high rate of speed given that we were losing light quickly. He hit the brakes hard and missed the big rhino that was in the middle of the road, with three others nearby. We kept going and took some great photos with a beautiful sunset in the distance. It was a great hunt that went according to plan, and Rudy was elated. It is a good thing I did not guide the guide and screw things up!
Horn Lengths – Here is an accounting of things so far for the hunting aficionados in the group:
- Eland – Jim’s: 36″ (includes twist)
- Impala – Jim’s 22″, Graylen & Rudy – tied at 22 ¾”
- Kudu Bull – Graylen’s: 52″ (includes twist)
- Nyala Bull – Graylen’s: 26 ¼”
- Red Hartebeest – Rudy’s: Not measured yet
- Sable – Jim’s: 40 ½”
- Water Buck – Jim’s: 26 ½”
- Warthog – Graylen’s – 8 5/8″; Rudy’s – 12″, Jim’s (smaller, but not sure yet)
- Wildebeest – Rudy’s: 27 ½” spread; Graylen’s – smaller, but not sure
Day 10 – A Change of Venue
We decided to hunt another farm about an hour away to improve our chances of finding a gemsbuck for Graylen. We arose early, grabbed our coffee and set out in Petrus’ pickup truck, which had safari seating in the back. On the way out of Rhinoland, we notice that there are 3 flags flying at the front gate, including an American flag. We appreciate the nice touch. The ride started down the 10 miles or so of dirt road, which was in bad shape. Petrus drove about 65 mph down a road that made Piceance Creek Road look like the interstate.
We met the owner Clive and set out. Very quickly, we came upon a good-sized gemsbuck and Graylen got set up, but it moved away after 30 seconds with no shots fired. It was a female and the hard part of gemsbuck hunting is that the females have longer horns than the males. This leads to a lot of serious consideration at times, but no shooting.
Petrus dropped Graylen, Joshua and I off in a blind near a water hole. We would sit in this blind while Rudy and Petrus hunted bushbuck along the river. We spent about two hours killing the time and trying to stay quiet. Then about 30 impalas came into the water for about 15 minutes and then moved on. About 9 30 am about 15 gemsbuck came in from our left. They could peer in the entry way into our blind which had no door so we had to be really still. A few walked in front of us to the water, but many stayed to our left. Joshua identified two bulls. The small one of course walked back and forth in front of us offering lots of time to shoot. The big one stayed to our left and never offered a shot. Joshua’s handheld radio crackled and I told him to shut it off. Bad move, about 5 minutes later Petrus drove up in his truck and off the gemsbuck went. I should have realized and warned him off.
After about 10 minutes of visiting, we mounted up and started driving and hunting. Aside from a 30 minute break for lunch, we drove from 10 30 am to 6 pm. We went round and round the property. There was tons of game of all sorts and we were seeing multiple groups of gemsbuck. The game became cat and mouse, and the gemsbuck had apparently played it many times before here. We would see them, approach them and they would run away not only before we could shoot, but generally before we could identify a bull or whether it was worth shooting. The gemsbuck seemed to be adept at running away in a way that never put them too close to any roads. We saw not only gemsbuck, but lots of waterbuck, wildebeest, kudu, blesbuck and other game.
It was fun, but it was tiring driving in the heat and trying to hold on in the back of Petrus’ truck which was not as well configured as the Land Cruisers at Rhinoland. The sun was beating down, and in the battle of sunscreen vs. the sun, the sun was winning. Graylen, too cool for sunscreen that day, was scorched by the end. We headed back at dark, had dinner, and went to bed exhausted.
Correction: I should have learned that I should submit all my writing to the editorial board of Graylen and Rudy before sending out. They issued a few corrections this morning. First, Rudy said to make clear that he also spotted my sable a few days prior and put the gun in my hand. Since this was the most expensive animal we have shot by a wide margin, everyone seems to want credit. Secondly, I did make a clear mistake in my “Fun Animal Facts” of a few days ago. All of the male plains game of the size of Nyalas and above are bulls, and the smaller ones are rams, not bucks as I had said a few days ago.
Day 11 – Take It Easy
We had debated going back to Clive’s, but we decided we had put in enough hours chasing the elusive gemsbuck. We slept in this Saturday morning and it was everything we thought it could be. We have been hearing from Marius what a big business game breeding and genetics has become so we decided to go to the wildlife auction about 90 minutes away. It is actually quicker than that if your guide can drive 65 mph down unimproved dirt roads. We first toured the zoo and saw game animals and some of the lots of animals up for auction. Some of the highlights including: seeing an African Wildcat that looked exactly like our barn cat Blue back home, seeing crocodiles stacked on top of each other baking in the sun, seeing cougars / mountain lions up close and watching a leopard pacing back and forth totally focused on the 3 year old girl in pink who must have represented the weakest prey on our side of the fence.
We watched the auction for a while. The cheapest animals went for about $5000 and the biggest sales were individual breeding cape buffalo at about $100,000 and huge sable named Everest that sold for just shy of $200,000. You know you are big if you have cool names like Everest, Duke, King, or the like.
After lunch we drove back to Rhinoland, chilled for a while and went out on the afternoon hunt at 3 30 pm. We were mostly looking for blesbuck for Rudy. We went to the far corner of the ranch where the sable was shot, as it was here that we saw the only male blesbucks. It was a quiet afternoon and we saw almost nothing.
On our way back, Petrus talked a lot on the radio. Radio communications and Petrus’ conversations with Joshua during the trip were all in Afrikan and they almost never translated for us, unless you asked. Petrus drove us up a big hill, and said one of the trackers had spotted a gemsbuck that we might be able to find and shoot from the hilltop. We fell for the diversion, grabbed our gear and climbed to the top where we found a table, white tablecloth, Champagne and Suzanne. We had a champagne toast and watched a beautiful sunset.
Side Story #1: Marius and Heleen’s middle child is a 16 year old son Michael He is apparently one of the best rugby players in the country at the high school level and is likely to gain a scholarship to play rugby. Michael’s big game hunting started early. He had his big five (lion, rhino, elephant, buffalo, & leopard) by age 12. He would have had it by age 8, but Zimbabwe started killing white people around that time so the elephant hunt had to be put off by four years.
Side Story #2: Rhino poaching is a big topic of conversation here. There is one rhino poached in Africa every 15 hours. The poachers are often former military or guerrillas from Mozambique where the war ended. They carry guns and are quite dangerous. Marius showed us pictures of the four rhinos poached at Rhinoland and they are heart wrenching. What helps Rhinoland is the large size of the property (~35,000 acres) which makes it hard for poachers to locate the rhinos. Generally, one guy is dropped in and spends a few days locating animals, two other guys are dropped off and the three of them go after the rhinos. They will shoot even babies to get the smallest of horns. The horns are made out of a material similar to our fingernails, and have been tested and clearly shown to have no health benefits or impacts. Nevertheless, the Chinese demand makes it lucrative for these poachers to kill rhinos. A team of poachers will make ~$6,000 and the end product will sell for over $100,000. Last year, in a dramatic chase with a helicopter and 25 people in pursuit on the ground, three poachers and their driver were caught. One man’s leg was shot off just above the ankle. They are still in prison a year later awaiting trial.
Kudu and Eland are the only animals that can jump the 8 foot tall perimeter fence. I wonder if my 1800 pound, big boy eland was able to do it. Interestingly, I learn that the huge eland is the largest member of the antelope family. Built like a cow on steroids, they run like an antelope.
I wonder on the trip how old our tracker Joshua is. At times, I think he looks 30 and at times I think 50. Finally, I ask the question. He is 31.
The large pond or small lake just below the lodge always holds animals which provides a pretty view and great game viewing at all times, from the ever-present warthog to impala, kudu, waterbuck and giraffe. Within the lodge fence, there is a 2 year old nyala female called Bambi that comes up to you to visit, and wags her tail when you talk to her. She was rescued from hyaenas by the owners.
Day 11 – The Home Stretch
Our plan for the morning is to go rednecking, shooting birds and attempting some 500 yard shots on some management impalas. We start driving and the plan changes. He takes us to the far corner again to look for blesbuck for Rudy, where we had seen nothing the night before. About an hour into it, there they are standing on a road at about 170 yards. “The one on the right is a nice one.” Rudy gets on the rifle and lines up on the blesbuck which is facing us straight on. “Shoot him in the chest.” Boom! The blesbuck drops in his tracks. He is an old male with big horns. Rudy has made another nice shot. 6 bullets, 6 animals. His shooting could not have been better.
Very quickly, I get on Rudy. “You are done! Totally tagged out! It’s my rifle. Don’t touch the rifle!” I say this to mock Rudy’s comments for me after I shot the sable.
On the way back, Petrus stops the truck and tells us this is where the black rhino was taken a year prior. The client shot the rhino, but the animal held up here. Being nervous, the client went to reload his bolt action rifle even though it was already loaded. On this gun, you cannot eject anything out the top other than a spent round. The client, paying $260,000 for this black rhino hunt, had his gun out of action for the final play on the animal. That has to hurt. A guide fires on the animal, it starts running and is just one meter behind Joshua and another tracker when Petrus drops it with his 458 rifle.
We check a water hole camera and find pictures of three leopards on it. We proceed further and find a gemsbuck at a water hole, but the window is too short to make the shot.
We return to the lodge for drinks and conversation, and then retire to the boma room with log fire in front of our tables for a great meal. We recount the trip. This is my first time to Africa and I have loved it. The hunting action has been non-stop and we have taken 17 animals over our ten days here. Most commonly, we are after 1-2 animals when we leave Colorado for a big hunt. Hunts like this are most memorable however for the great people you get to meet and we have totally enjoyed Rhinoland and our hosts. We have been truly blessed to have this opportunity.