Postcards from South Africa, Part II

By Randy Wakeman

We arrived at Serengeti Safari Lodge in Limpopo Province, South Africa (23*29.098S x 027*16.381E). The camp is about 80km west of Lephalale, right on the Botswana border (Limpopo river). Last game count showed nearly 2000 head of game in about a 7,000 hectare area of very thick bushveldt. There, the story begins . . .

Things got off to a bit of depressing start: South Africa Airways LOST our guns. Let me tell you, this stinks on ice. SAA calls it a "baggage irregularity report." I happen to think it is more of a gut-wrenching nightmare. It is--you really don't want this bloody mess.

If SAA cared at all, it was not visible to me. Fortunately, it is rare that this happens. We were "the first" with a screw-up of this magnitude. Sometimes it is good to be first. This was absolutely not one of those times.

My 78 years young Dad borrowed a rifle chambered for the European 7x64 Brenneke cartridge (ballistically nearly identical to our .280 Remington) and did just great with it. Dad bagged a nice gemsbok, a trophy impala, and a recordbook steenbok. That is a wonderful set of hunting stories right there. I was loaned a 7x57 rifle, which I carried on the first few days of our hunt but never fired at an animal. Naturally, though, I traveled to SA to muzzleload.

Trying to find your guns while attempting to work with SAA people that absolutely have no clue, and just don't care is just no fun. They found a new level of ignorance and apathy. It took a while to get a hold of my Savage 10ML-II, and required 12 hours of driving back to the airport right in the middle of the hunt. I finally got back to camp around 3 AM, up at 6 AM to hunt all day, or something like that.

After whacking the warthog with the 10ML-II at 179 yards, the next day it was time to go after horns. Time was not in our favor. Snap-shooting out to 200 yards is not a problem for me, but the problem of range is not one generally considered in the bush. Nor need it be. With a 7 x 57 or similar centerfire, flipping the switch as far as you can see an animal in the bushveldt is of little concern.

I bled enough to please most people, and my face was ready to peel off from the wind and sun. We hunted like hell on fire those last two days, and the right shot didn't come easily. Zebras and guinea fowl helped bust up many good stalks, as did the wind.

Think a kudu can hide? They are masters of disguise. Check out this pic I snapped early on. You are very lucky to see this much of a kudu in the bush. In fact, we never again saw a broadside standing kudu.

Kudu in brush. Photo by Randy Wakeman.

Okay, we hit the last day of the safari, out with two fabulous PH's and their best tracker, Lucas. Only a few hours remained till sunset. Suddenly, Lucas gets agitated--he part whispered and part screamed "KUDU BULL, KUDU BULL, KUDU BULL." We ran to the edge of the bush, looked down the path, and there he was.

He was standing at an angle, so it was a raking shot, the body angled toward the bush with his head facing us. No time to think about it. My PH said "decent one." The shooting sticks went up, wobbling a bit in the wind, I popped crosshairs on the center of the body and let her go.

WHAM! You could hear the hit, and it was high-fives all round. That was soon to change, the momentary victory celebration was horrifically premature. Far more "premature" than we imagined.

We went back to get the truck, and drove to where the Kudu hit the thick stuff. The PH thought 150 yards or so, I thought 190 yards or so. Not really.

100 yards clicked by . . . 125 yards . . . then 150 yards . . . 175 yards . . . 200 yards. Then 225 yards clicked by and we weren't close yet. Good grief. The bull had been standing at about 260 yards.

Look at a lone bull in the bush, how far is he? You have a second to make up your mind or it is gone--it was looking right at us. I had no problem making up my mind. The misjudging of range was, of course, all my fault, and my responsibility as well.

Though my mind was made up, it was made up quite incorrectly. I did not hold-over or compensate for range. Not good. There was no dead Kudu laying there. Karel found a fleck of bloody bone, and tracks with a splayed open hoof. What had moments ago appeared to be a grand finale now looked to be a disaster.

Off we went tearing through the bush, tracking that bull for some two miles. In all that area, there were only four spots with a drop of blood. It gets worse, as now we have run out of sun. A smoldering disaster.

Our plane is leaving the next day; around $1600 to change tickets for my Dad and myself. We had to be packed, on the road by 11:00 AM at the very latest. This is ungood. Fabulously ungood. Tremendously ungood. We marked the trail closest to nearest dirt path so we could start the next morning. I believe the thorns destroyed Pierre's lucky handkerchief.

Ever have a horrible, sinking feeling that you might not recover a trophy? Well, I was sick to my stomach, and had all night to worry about it. This is the genuine "Kodak Moment Projectile Vomiting" feeling. We had a few hours the next day to not just locate the animal, but to drop him / recover him / get him out of the field / skin him and hit the road. It looked bleak.

I had guessed that I was shooting at 190 yards. No one believed he was any farther. Well, I could not possibly have been more wrong.

We left the trail with the tracks on hard earth, the hoof prints getting faint. Now, we had all night to worry about a wandering herd of impala destroying what was left of that fragile trail. Really bad. I was an emotional wreck; this really bothered me. You can't be a hunter and not have a gnawing pain in the pit of your stomach in this situation--all night long.

Okay, we hit the trail the next morning as soon as light allowed it. Fortunately, the shot that looked so good then looked so bad started looking better. The kudu went only a few hundred yards from where we left the trail, and there was blood. LOTS of blood where he bedded down. From then on, there was fresh, wet blood every few yards. The leg was dragging.

Within an hour and a half, we found him. Actually, a bigger (quite healthy) bull almost got shot as well.

Thanks to some expert professional hunters and trackers, the trophy was recovered within an hour and a half. Amazing. It is tremendous testimony to the skill and experience of Karel, Pierre, and their crew.

Had the shot been four inches higher, it would have gone straight through his heart. The hold was a good one, smashing the bottom of his shoulder and opening a huge area. Horizontally perfect but, too low. It didn't enter the body cavity. When you have a muzzleloader like the Savage 10ML-II that can hit tennis balls at 200 yards all afternoon, it's all down to the nut behind the butt.

Quite an adventure, with (eventually) a more or less happy ending. I don't care to have one like that ever again, though.

There's not much of a moral to the story, except I can tell you it is not a terrifically good idea when muzzleloading for greater kudu to hold for 190 yards when the magnificent beast is actually at 260.

I'm exhausted just reliving it. Something like this can really suck the life out of you. Fortunately, the kudu did get the life sucked out of him.

The ending was a mix of joy and relief, more relief than anything else. It is one of those things you never, ever want to go through again. Yet, at the same time you are thankful for the experience, and it makes more demure hunts pale by comparison. I'm thankful right now to have had the expertise of Pierre and Karel by my side, more than anything else, when it was all set into motion.

From the left: Karel, Pierre, and myself. In front, a kudu experience I'll never forget. He's a fairly young (3-4 years old) bull with very impressive body size. It is far from the biggest kudu ever shot, but I can tell you this: it is the biggest kudu I've ever shot, and to me he is the biggest, brightest, most magnificent kudu that ever lived. There is nothing I'd trade for this adventure.

As mentioned before, we hunted with Karel Haefele, professional hunters Pierre and Rob Martin of MAA Safaris / Ke Monati Safaris. If you had seen and experienced what we just did, you would not not hesitate calling Rob Martin or getting in touch with Karel.

Some elk and trophy mule deer hunts can, and do, cost more than quality time in the bush with Karel and Pierre. It is a true bargain, with sights, sounds, and memories you'll never forget for the rest of your days. Karel and Pierre are two of the very best I've ever hunted with. Not all that surprising, considering that they are native South Africans with close to thirty years of "Professional Hunter" experience between them. My very highest recommendation to Ke Monati, without reservation!

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Copyright 2006 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.