|Johnny Cash, a full moustache and a fresh breath of life!|
|"I think I only want to hunt 4 or 5 animals” - famous last words.|
The rural, under developed and diverse Eastern Cape offers the true hunter the opportunity to pursue a diversity of species in genuine hunter's spirit. Without knowledge of what may lie in the next valley, venture into the mystery of the Eastern Cape. Only genuine hunters succeed here as pursuit of the unknown and unknowable requires patience, perseverance, skill and a willingness to full heartedly trust your professional hunter who guides you into seizing what has presented itself on a particular day. Nowhere else is such a high diversity of huntable species on offer and accompanying hunting techniques tested.
Gazing out from one of the many hill sides into a plentiful valley filled with hundreds of head of game it is hard to imagine that not too long ago you would have been looking into somewhat of an abyss with regards to wildlife numbers and species. The devastating rinderpest had resulted in many land owners wiping out all upon 4 hooves that was not domesticated and, without a value on these game species, further eliminated them as competition for grazing. The development of the Southern African hunting safari provided the spark for the repopulating of these Eastern Cape valleys and now the valued game dots the landscape as far as the eye can see.
No Eastern Cape plain's game hunt is complete without a Eastern Cape Kudu. With no two bulls being identical the quest for your particular bull with above average length, accompanying aesthetically pleasing shape and depth of curl - this quest often takes the hunter many miles and days. Kudu hold a personal sense of pride for myself as a professional hunter. In a world where all animals are created equal - Kudu would still rank more equal than others. With ample time and a good population in the area you can afford to be picky going after Kudu. In between hours of glassing you may well have several opportunities to hunt some of the other variety the Eastern Cape offers. On this particular safari - with the luxury and joy of 14 days of hunting offered us just that. While every safari starts in a somewhat uniform fashion with an overly excited drive from airport to concession, a meeting of hunters from opposite sides of the globe on the first night, a (hopefully) jet lag free night’s rest, a first African sunrise and the sighting in of rifles - from that moment onward your safari becomes your own. And no two are the same.
Having stalked impala, springbuck and blesbok - typical "first African game" species - our genuine first opportunity came in the form of the poor man's buffalo - the blue wildebeest. Notoriously tough it was with relief that the bull dropped at 117 yards with a single shot from the Springfield 30-06. Lady luck smiled as the shot had broken the neck having been pushed far right from the more desirable shoulder shot. Nonetheless: the first trophy was in the salt. Celebrations and congratulations were in order and just like that the Eastern Cape had forged its own place in another international hunter's heart.
This is what I cam here for!" - first African animal in the salt - Blue Wildebeest
When Kudu hunting is on one's agenda - it takes priority and we began the next morning before light as to reach a vantage point from which we could possibly spot and stalk a worthy bull. Kudu have very few weaknesses - one being their male identity leading them to reveal themselves from cover while chasing females and the other is their innate desire to bask and warm in the early morning sunshine. Typically, a hunter could begin enjoying such a day glassing over several Kudu bulls with too few seasons behind them or simply not trophy quality before making a move. However, today the very first Kudu we see from our vantage point are two high quality bulls - one of which would make a particularly spectacular trophy. The hunt is on. Slowly walking our way down a dew covered slope we stalk to where we believe they may have held up. Patient and careful foot placement on every step bring us to where we thought we had spotted them. But the grey ghost of Africa as it is so aptly named has evaded us. A kudu female barks as the wind turns and you sense our guest’s - and our own - doubt in our unbelievable first mornings luck to have found a suitable bull already only to have him evade us. Many hunter's would turn at this point and utter the profanity "busted" - and rightly so. Usually a warning bark sends all kinds of animals in the area into high alert. However we persevere - we will cut a road soon for an easier walk back to the rest of the team soon anyhow. Before we can even double back up the hill, a gap in the brush reveals our quarry and in a single motion sticks are set and a shot rings out. A definite hit - but where?
We quickly come to grips with our misfortune. We have a wounded kudu in the long grass that remains from the late summer rain and a vast expanse for it to disappear into. Many a writer has attempted to describe the sinking feeling that follows an ill-placed shot. No one does it justice. If you have been there you will know and if you have hunted long enough you have certainly been there. What remains of the day is spent searching for what could have been and through the night the final glimpse of the Kudu is placed into the “should have, would have, could have” memory bank. Success is fantastic medicine for failure. When another Eastern Cape classic - the Mountain Reedbuck - presents itself the bitter pill of defeat is replaced with the sweet swig of success. A perfectly placed shot at around 100 yards puts the safari back on track and the ram is dropped in its tracks
A beautiful Mountain Reedbuck ram – also a classic Eastern Cape species.
Beyond the success in the field an African safari revives the soul in a way few adventures can. Our guests were in a permanent state of euphoria as every divine, freshly prepared meal offered us hours of storytelling and the subsequent jovial laughs. Even 5am breakfast was not sacred to the infectious good times we were having and shared fine spirits of our hunting party and many a morning we were laughing together before the sun awoke the numerous birds that shared camp with us. Our guests personal expertise in Javelina hunting back home entertained us for hours while a mutual respect and enjoyment for the good music of classic rock and country from Mr Cash to Beatles and those worthy of sharing the same breath meant evenings under the southern cross were serenaded in harmony that would make many believe we were a quartet of tenors rather than hunters! The only serious talk were those of love of which our guests were celebrating 45 happy years and the spreading of ashes of those passed over the mighty plains of Africa. In a moment of tranquillity upon the highest peak we laid rest the ashes of Dad Griffin to forever enjoy Africa
A toast to Dad Griffin, making new memories and the view from the highest peak from which the ashes were spread.
Every new dawn offers the hunter a new challenge and if you do not wake excited in Africa then you surely must have a dulled spirit. Today the national antelope of South Africa was in our sights – the Springbuck. These cunning small bodied antelope are alert at all times and enjoy more open veld making securing a trophy ram a challenge. However, we were up to it. After looking over numerous rams – and nearly bagging a trophy duiker in between – we have spotted an exceptional specimen and in the most unfavourable heat of midday we pursue on foot. Cresting is the name of the game – slowly exploring each new rise for where our quarry has hidden itself. We spotted our ram first off from a distance, circling round the back of a flat topped rise we seek out the herd he was grazing with. With the heat of the sun directly above we eventually clear a final rise to see the Springbuck a mere 80 yards away. Standing less than 3 ft at the shoulder – the long grass has our patience tested as we await the shot. Moving ever so carefully to a more favourable spot we steady the sticks and wait. The tedious and tense time between setup and shoot can only be understood in that moment and with cheek firmly on rifle stock we await our opportunity. At last the ram steps free – with a set of horns so much larger than those around him my task as professional hunter is made easy in ensuring the correct target is in the crosshairs. One shot is all it takes and the ram is ours. Springbuck are the only animal you rush a photo with as we quickly grab the memorable photo of the springbuck with its unique “pronk” of white hair (which happens to have a candy floss aroma) fully raised
The hard earned, team effort springbuck displaying its “pronk” (bottom left).
With two well placed shots rendering our previous mishap with the Kudu forgotten, but lessons remembered, it was time to resume the quest for a stellar Eastern Cape Kudu bull. Fortune favours the brave and we set of with determination in the mid-afternoon. This time we take a good look at two other bulls – one which surely would have been a monstrous bull had he not broken off his left horn before the first curl! Fate smiled on us and a third bull revealed himself – he was spooked by us and set off at a gallop – full curl horns seeming to do little to weigh him down. Keeping my hunter prepared and following the bull carefully I was forever hopeful he would stop. Under the shade of a thorn tree at 170 yards he did just that. With a steady shot the bull ran his last 40 yards before expiring – we had our
An extremely satisfying Kudu redemption
Celebrations were in order that evening and with 6 string in hand we enjoyed some Kenny Rodgers and many more tunes suitable for just such an occasion. We were even treated to freshly caught, smoked yellowtail fish! Who could envision we would be enjoying such fine seafood in a hunting camp in Africa. It is never to be assumed that you will succeed on any Kudu hunt on any given safari so to have redeemed ourselves from an earlier failure with a bull of this quality is a moment that we will not forget. With rain scheduled for the next morning we were in no rush that evening and lifelong friendships between fellow hunters were forged late into the night.
With our priority animal now well and truly in the salt we had some of the more populous species to attend to: Impala and Blesbok. We had an opportunistic hunting attitude to take what Africa gives us on any particular day – but these two were to receive the necessary attention in the next two days. Impala are numerous on most African safaris – but trophy rams (particularly when you are looking for one) seem to be in scarce supply. The hunt for our impala turned into a grand adventure indeed. After scouting numerous bachelor groups through the later parts of the day after the morning rain we ventured up a rocky hill to a vantage point which would allow us 3 slopes to hunt. The last of these slopes revealed 2 impala rams. With round two of the mornings rain storm gaining momentum and some electricity we approached – distant thunder was not so distant anymore! To quietly descend down a steep rocky slope into a shooting position while remaining undetected with the clock ticking against Thor’s hammer thundering in the clouds now almost above is no easy feat. Somehow we managed and my guest squeezed of a perfect shot at a near 60 degree downhill angle. The ram was down. I raced down the slope – Boysana our tracker in tow – slinging the ram over my shoulders we recovered our trophy just as the rain drops gained momentum and lightening began to light up
The impala ram where he fell in the last sunlight before the storm hit we took our photos – you can see a distant lightning bolt as we glass
the trophy Blesbok ram on the hillside slope – each trophy took careful glassing and selection.
The storm gained momentum as we returned to the skinning shed – forcing us all to become very well acquainted squeezed into the interior of the hunting vehicle safely away from the rain and lightning. The forceful storm made short work of the electricity supply in camp and we enjoyed a rustic candle lit dinner of the first venison we hunted – blue wildebeest on the menu! Having matured 6 days it was delightfully tender and rendered us to eating out of pure enjoyment having filled our bellies long ago. Having your African game prepared for you in camp is a treat every safari guest should enjoy
Look at all that Blue Wildebeest meat and that isn’t even the half of it! The spectacular thunderstorm that took out the power and the intriguing bushmen paintings we visited in between hunting.
We were well and truly on a roll now and the hunting was going splendidly. Blesbok remained to be pursued and in the early hours of the morning in a gap in the rain a 180 yard shot upward toward a ram standing free of his herd on a hillside saw more smiles. The rest of the day – in between prevailing rain – was enjoyed viewing the bushmen paintings on the concession and unsuccessfully hunting Black Wildebeest. These aptly named “clowns of the grasslands” are notoriously frustrating to hunt. Spotting you from a mile away they behave in the most depraved manner swinging their tails about before dashing all together as a herd for to the next piece of veld awaiting you to repeat the process. No matter – time was on our side and we would outwit them.
From the very peak we spread Dad Griffin’s ashes we had used the vantage point to scout out some suitable trophies to pursue several days ago. In amongst a group of eland cows was an enormous, dark Eland bull with a mop of hair that would be hard to match. I knew that this animal would become the fixation of our hunter’s mind should I not hide my excitement at spotting such a bull. Carefully my eagerness to pursue this Eland was hidden – until today. With Kudu and many other trophies safely in the salt – it was time to return for this Eland of a lifetime. Known for covering vast expanses of ground in minimal time as well as excellent senses they make a challenging hunt. With their massive bodies it is also highly preferable to hunt this beast in an area that would simplify recovery. With all of this in mind we set out that morning. Our fortunes continued as we soon found the same herd of eland – and our bull was enjoying what bulls do best – chasing the cows. He also had another competitor in tow distracting him from his task, however this second bull did not match the first in the size of his brush on his forehead. As professional hunter’s we love to pursue Eland as the trophy is not only in horn length but in body colour and size, dewlap prominence and fullness of the dark haired mop of hair that covers the forehead. This bull ticked all the boxes: we simply had to hunt him. With the herd feeding away from us the first opportunity presented itself with a cross valley shot of nearly 200 yards. The shot failed to find its target and the Eland set off on their deceptive trot. We would catch up to them a few miles later. With calmed nerves and a renewed focus – we would not fail this time and a single, perfectly placed shot at 170yards felled the Eland. With a safari filled with memories – this moment was sure to make the highlights reel! As an added bonus we had taken our Eland on an open plain and recovery of the near 1800 pound animal was gladly made simple
The Eland of a lifetime with an unbelievably thick and full mop of hair on his forehead.
This Eland bull had been in the back of my mind for the entire safari and to have guided our guest successfully to it simply reaffirmed why we as professionals love what we do. The evening was once again a jovial affair in camp with even more stories, javelina hunting tips and advice to falling and staying in love. The only dispute seemed to be whether Nickelback could be mentioned into the classic rock genre. The jury is still out on this one – I however maintained a professional stand point: the client is always right. Thus, Nickelback remained on the classic rock playlist for the remainder of the safari.
There was ample time to pursue one last trophy – the subject of several days frustration so far: the Black Wildebeest. Our guest had affectionately taken to calling them “Black Beasts” and while a smile remained below his splendid moustache determination filled the hunter’s eyes. We had failed several stalks when up high on a ridge side – steeper than any we had hunted yet – a herd had gathered with two shootable bulls amongst them. The final hunt was on. Once we gained the height advantage patience became the name of the game. Peering down at least a 45 degree angle at last a bull gave a broad side shot at over 200 yards. From shooting sticks this was no easy task, however the final shot of our safari rang true and with the undisputable sound of bullet on flesh the herd took off. Crossing the hill bottom our spotter thought he saw the bull fall. Wounded black wildebeest are an absolute aggravation to follow and a one shot kill would be a great way to end the hunt. Approaching the spot where we thought the bull had fallen we found him expired. Tough as old boots our bull had run a near 500 yards with a double lung shot.
final trophy of the safari – a beautiful Black Wildebeest bull taken with a single shot
With our hunt over – we had ample time to enjoy many more aspects of our safari together. We took to flying drones over the rain blessed plains, enjoying sundowners, taking an adventurous big 5 photographic safari and a trip to the spectacular Morgan Bay on the Wild Coast for delicious sea food and a chance to kick off the hunting boots to walk barefoot on the sand. The reality of a 14 day blissful safari was starting to set in and a long journey home loomed. I was honoured by our guest’s words, “We usually feel about 3 or 4 days from the end of a trip it is time to go home, but this time we have not ever felt that!” If there is to be a greater compliment, I have yet to hear it
With a total of 8 exceptional trophies, the same great taste in music, a wife who loves him even more after 45 years and 14 days - Mr Griffin (moustache in-tact) returned home safely. We are adamant of his return – just before we ended the last night he said, “You know – I really want to bring my family here – and hunt a Cape Buffalo."
Until next time: The Maartens Safaris Team