LAST EDITED ON Jun-17-15 AT 05:41 PM (MST)
PH: Jason Bridger
Hunters: Me, my son Hunter, my dad, and my friend Brad
Last year, my 15 year anniversary present from my wife was a trip to Africa. Greatest wife ever!!
We arrived in camp to the smiling faces of the Tholo staff. We were shown to our living quarters which were canvas tents covered by thatch huts with attached bathrooms and hot showers. The camp overlooked the small pond with 2 hippos that serenaded every night. The food was amazing at every meal. The camp hosts, Clive, Linda, and Kim Eaton were the kindest people and went to all lengths to make sure our stay was nothing but amazing. Great care was taken to each animal and pictures.
Hunting Day 1:
Today started out with breakfast before sun rise and then we were off in the Toyota Land Cruiser trucks equipped with seating for all of us in the back of the truck very high up to see over the brush. We had two trackers with us, Besa and Kamuru. These guys are incredible at what they do. Our PH, Jason Bridger, joked that they could track "low flying birds." It amazed me that with all the thousands of tracks on top of tracks that they were able to follow one.
As we were driving down the road we spotted a huge herd of Impala. We quickly jumped off the truck and the stalk was on. We were able to get within about 100 yards even with all the eye balls looking around. We could hear several bulls fighting in the brush to the right of the 30-40 ewes but still could not see one. After about 10 minutes, one ram came running out of the thicket toward the ewes but I could not get a clear shot. Then another ram came running out and Jason said that he was bigger. They chased each other around for what seemed like forever. Finally the bigger ram slowed down to a walk. With a slight lead I was able to drop him in his tracks with the suppressed .300 WM Blazer. My first African animal!
The 3 skinners showed up to pick up the ram and we were off in search of whatever else we could find. We didn't drive more than 10 minutes and we were on to a group of Red Hartebeast with a nice bull in the group. After a long blown stalk we headed back to the truck.
The scenery and shear amount of animals was insane. Within the next hour we saw Giraffe, Springbok, warthogs, Kudu, and best of all a huge White Rhino with her calf. I sat there in awe and unbelief witnessing something that only a fraction of a percent of people on this earth will ever see. I felt so blessed to be able to witness something so amazing.
Not long after the Rhino watching we were suddenly stopped as one of the trackers saw a glimpse of a zebra way off in the distance. We were quickly off in pursuit to see what the herd had to offer. After several attempts of cutting them off, we finally had a small window to shoot through. All I could see through the thick brush was the head and neck of a zebra. I aimed where I thought front shoulder would be and slowly squeezed off the round. It was a perfect hit but the zebra was still able to run 200 or so yards before going down. Two animals of my 11 down before lunch on the first day.
After some lunch we headed back out to see what else we could find. We dropped my friend Brad off in a blind to archery hunt for the evening and continued down the road to see what we could turn up. Not long after leaving Brad we saw a very big old Blue Wildebeest just meandering through the brush with a very impressive Gemsbok. The two were an awkward pair but both were shooters. During our stalk I told Jason that I would take which ever animal offered me the first shot. As we got closer we could hear the wildebeest grunting and huffing at us. All of a sudden I saw a black face looking right at me in the brush at about 100 yards. I put the rifle over the sticks, aimed for the low chest and squeezed off the round. Instantly the loud thud rang back and the wildebeest went down instantly.
We ended the night with a few more close encounters with some Gemsbok and I ended up passing on a 52 or so inch Kudu with a broken point. What a great first day. Tomorrow I'm told that we are in search of Eland using the trackers and a lot of boot leather. I'm looking forward to it.
Jason, Hunter, Besa, and I headed down the road in search of some Eland tracks crossing the road to start the tracking. I was pretty excited to see how they do this and I was impressed to say the least. These trackers were able to stay with one single bull in the presence of thousands of tracks. They learn certain characteristics of one track to identify them when they cross thousands of other tracks. They know what time certain mice come out at night to know what time the Eland had been through, what time of day they stood in the shade next to a tree due to the changing of the shade. It was absolutely mind boggling to me. We followed the track for 4-5 miles. Gradually the tracks were leading us directly with the wind which became completely pointless to follow at that point. We decided to pull off the track and head in for lunch. While we were eating lunch we got word that Brad had hit a Kudu with the rifle but they were unable to find it. The plan for after lunch was to head in a different direction to search for some Red Hartebeast. However, on the way there we got a call over the radio that Brad's group had seen a great bull Kudu so we flipped around and headed in their direction. Finally, Besa saw a Kudu bull up on the hill above us at about 400 yards. I pulled out the .300 WM and shot him. The bull ran about 30 yards and just as I was about to put the second round in him, he toppled over. If I were to dream up a Kudu bull that I would want this one fit the bill perfectly.
We loaded up the bull and were then off again in search of whatever else we could find before the sun went down. We ran in to several Springbok, Red Hartebeest, and Gemsbok but no shooters before it got dark.
While hunting for other animals tonight we got word over the radio that Brad had actually been charged by a Rhino while searching for his Kudu. What doesn't kill you, makes a great story. Brad was never able to recover his Kudu.
Tomorrow is Giraffe day. They spotted a very old bull this morning that we are hoping hasn't gone too far. The owner of the ranch had offered to allow me to use his .470 double barrel open sight rifle which will add a bit of excitement to the hunt.
This morning we started out by taking the .470 Nitro to the range to make sure it was on. This double barrel rifle with open sights was close to 100 years old and is now worth over $150,000. It was a little intimidating even holding it in my hand, not only because of the power I knew it was about to put down range and into my shoulder but because of its worth. One shot at the target to verify it was on was enough for me.
After about a 30 minute drive we were in Giraffe territory and in search of a big old bull. It didn't take long for Besa to spot a herd of giraffe and we were off. As we approached them in the landcruiser they immediately took off in their awkward gallop. With them now standing out in the open with their periscope necks and incredible eyesight we thought we would be in for a rodeo trying to get close enough for a shot, especially with them now at high alert. We decided to leave them for awhile and drive around and try to come in from a different angle. Well this didn't work either and they were off again. This time instead of driving right towards them we decided to drive more at an angle. This worked! We got closer and closer and to our surprise they seemed much more tolerable to our presence. However, if we even looked like we were getting out of the truck they would take off. It took us quite awhile to look over the 15 or so giraffes to decide on which bull was the oldest and biggest. Once decided I pulled out the rifle and opted for the neck shot to hopefully put him right down and avoid a long drawn out chase. It worked well and he went down immediately upon the shot.
I knew we were dealing with a huge animal but there is no way to grasp the size of them until you walk up to one on the ground. I was in awe at the enormity of this animal. It took all my strength to pick up his head. His hooves were larger in diameter than my hands. Within 30 minutes two more trucks showed up with 5 bushman each with their giant smiles and sharp knives. I couldn't believe the efficiency of them all. With two thousand pounds of meat and nothing but a wet spot left on the ground we headed for camp.
After some lunch and making sure the caping and salting process was going the way we wanted it we jumped in the cruiser to see what else we could find to finish the day. We decided to head back to the huge pan in search of Springbok or possibly a Blue Wildebeest for Hunter. Up until this point we had seen many Springbok but no mature rams. This time a new ram was in the pan. We set off on foot to see if we could get closer. When we got about 200 yards this was it. Any closer and we were most likely sending them bounding across the pan. I don't know why but I had a terrible time trying to calm myself for this shot. After struggling for a minute to get a steady bead on him, I pulled the gun off the sticks, took a couple deep breaths and placed the rifle back up on the sticks. I was still shaky but decided it wasn't going to get any better. I timed the shakes and was able to pull off a great shot with him going down instantly. Right away my guide and tracker started running toward the ram as fast as they could. I was left standing there in confusion. So I started running too really not sure why we were running. Once we got to the ram, Jason quickly got him propped up for some pictures while he explained to me that the back hair on a Springbok will stand up on end for about 2 minutes after being shot and we needed to get our pictures quickly to beat that window. Sure enough at about 2 minutes that hair started laying down.
We still had about 45 minutes before the sun went down so we loaded up and headed down the road. Not 2 miles down the road we spotted a herd of Red Hartebeest. After a long search in the surrounding brush, we finally found the bull. I got one quick shot off just as he turned to run which was a definite miss. We bailed off after them and bumped them again sending them off into the thick brush. We decided to circle around and get the setting sun at our back to hide our approach. After a little cat and mouse we finally located the bull again at about 60 yards and I was able to make a head on shot in the chest which put him down instantly. 3 animals down on day 3 was a blast and to have the giraffe down so quickly will lighten the load for the rest of the week.
This morning the plan was Black Wildebeest. We had to drive about 45 minutes to a different part of the ranch where Jason knew they would be. We had already seen some Black Wildebeest in the same pan as the Springbok but they were the only group in that part of the ranch and there was only one bull. Because it is against the law to shoot any Cheetah they have taken over on the ranch and have decimated all of the blesbok and most of the Black Wildebeest. Clive, the owner, designated a certain part of the ranch just for the Black Wildebeest and Sable to fence them off from the Cheetahs. It didn't take us long to find the Wildebeest but after searching over the herd for over an hour we were only able to see a few small bulls. We decided it would be best to scratch the Black Wildebeest off of the list and add a waterbuck instead due to the small population. During our search of the Wildebeest I had noticed a decent Kudu bull with a horrible limp on his front leg. Jason turned to me and asked if Hunter would want to shoot this Kudu instead of his cull Gemsbok that he was allowed for free. His face immediately lit up. Hunter leaned the rifle over the sticks and made a perfect one shot kill on the kudu. Upon walking up to him we noticed that his front leg had been caught in a snare. The snare had tightened up so much around his ankle that he had actually lost his front foot. Hunter couldn't have been more happy to take this Kudu.
Jason, Hunter, Besa, and I took off this morning in search of the Eland again. We cut tracks of 8 bulls together that were fresh. In fact Besa said that the tracks were from this morning not last night. When I asked him how he knew that he pointed out the tracks of some mice that only come out at night and go back in their holes when the sun comes out and the Eland tracks were on top of those. So, now we are noticing mouse tracks? Unbelievable!
We tracked the Eland for 4 hours straight, never stopping. Just ahead we could see that the thick black thorn bushes were thinning out into a pan full of tall trees, the perfect place for Eland to lie down for the day. We slowed our pace and crept in as quietly as possible. All of a sudden a young Eland bull stood up not 50 yards from us but he was all that we could see. Then all hell broke loose with zebra running everywhere and scattering Eland, Wildebeest, and Gemsbok in all directions. Morning hunt over.
After lunch, I decided that it was time to make some use of the bow. We got all geared up and headed to a blind to see what would show up for an evening drink. Me, dad, and my PH climbed into the blind after checking for mambas. This blind was called the mamba blind because they had removed mambas from it before. Not long into our sit 7 Kudu cows came to water and eventually moved along. About an hour after that, 3 Impala rams came to water. They hadn't been gone for more than 30 minutes when my dad looked up and said, "Your water buck just showed up." I couldn't see him from my angle so after a little musical chairs in the blind I could see him. He was standing right in the middle of the water hole only 15 yards away but quartering towards me. I decided that a well placed arrow just in front of the shoulder angling to the far shoulder would do the trick at this range. The arrow found its spot and the bull ran off hit hard. I had great penetration and I knew the Grim Reaper broad head would do the trick. The bull didn't go more than 100 yards before piling up.
Time to track my nemesis the Eland again. We started off on a good track originating from a water hole that they had been using every night. Again, 3 hours of tracking these bulls and still no sign of them. Jason stopped due to a Gemsbok making its way toward us. Upon seeing it passing Jason told me that she was a great Gemsbok so we readied the sticks. With the wind blowing so hard in our faces and the suppressed rifle we really didn't think it would make any difference to the Eland track. When she passed through an opening at about 50 yards I fired and down she went instantly. We didn't know it at the time but she died right on a road.
We got the meat truck called and we were off on the Eland tracks once again. We didn't make it 20 minutes down the track when Jason signaled that there was a Steenbok about 80 yards away just staring at us. I had told Jason that I would really like to get a Steenbok if the opportunity arrived but every one that we had seen up until this point was either a ewe or on a dead run. I made a great shot. I was so excited about this little guy. The size of their eyes and ears to the rest of their body is just a testament to how alert these little guys have to be for all the predators. Very cool little animals.
After loading him up we continued down the Eland track. We tracked for about another hour before being busted by a bunch of zebra once again sending the entire animal population in the area running, including our Eland. Game over.
We headed back to camp for some lunch where I heard Hunter had taken a great Gemsbok bull and an outstanding Warthog. Everyone seemed really excited about his warthog and after seeing it for myself I could see why. He was grinning from ear to ear and was so excited to tell me his story.
Brad had also taken a great Kudu and Gemsbok bull that morning.
After seeing Hunter's warthog I was excited to get back out and hunt something else besides Eland. We loaded up in the truck and didn't make it a mile down the road before we saw a nice old boar chasing around a sow and piglets. One shot from the .300 WM and he was down.
Days 7 and 8:
The last two days of my hunt were spent 100% chasing Eland. It was the only animal I had left on my list of wants. We followed tracks for hours with either the wind blowing out the Eland or other animals. We had Blue Wildebeest, Waterbuck and Zebra all mess us up on different stalks.
On my last day by noon I was getting really frustrated. I was hot, tired and sick of tracking but still wanted my Eland. I had thoughts of giving up and just shooting another Zebra for a shoulder mount. I'm not a quitter, ever, but this was really getting to me. I knew that evening stalks on Eland are rarely fruitful because you just never know how long you will need to follow the track and I may run out of light. But the thought of giving up was not going to be an option. I told Jason that I would rather stick it out for an Eland knowing that it was likely I'd be going home with out one.
We grabbed a quick lunch in camp and off we went to find a new track to follow. It didn't take us too long before we were off on a new track with 6 or 7 bulls together. We followed the tracks for about 3 hours when we hit a series of roads. We now only had about an hour of daylight left so we decided that to save some time we would leave Besa on the tracks and we would drive to the next road to see if we could cut their tracks crossing to cut out some walking. I jokingly said to Jason, "Watch, the only time we leave Besa and he will run right into them." We didn't make it 100 yards down the road when we got a whispering call from Besa on the radio that he had run right into them. He backed off of them undiscovered and we followed his tracks into meet him. We followed Besa another 400 yards or so and saw the group of Eland bulls through the thick brush. All I could make out was a gray colored mass but Jason assured me that he was big and looking right at us. I put the crosshairs of the .375 H&H mag on what I thought was center mass and squeezed the trigger. On the shot all the bulls took off smashing through all the brush.
We walked over to where they were standing and immediately found blood. The blood trail wasn't huge and it was only on his right side. Every time he brushed past a tree or bush it would coat the tree with blood but there was very little on the ground. My spirits were getting lower with each step once we passed 300 yards of blood trail. That 300 yards turned to a mile and still going. Discouragement was really setting in and I was replaying the whole scene over and over in my mind. Where did I hit him? Did I just graze his right side? With now only about 30 mins of light left we decided to give Besa the .375 and we would jump in the Landcruiser and see if we could catch them running across the open that Jason knew was a couple miles up the road.
When we crossed the road in the open we found their tracks and blood was still there. He had now gone over 3 miles and not showing any sign of slowing down. We drove down the road a bit farther and saw 8 bulls running up ahead but we were on their left side so we couldn't see blood on any of them. We drove ahead of them trying to get a right side view of them. Just as they broke into some thick brush my son said he saw blood on the back one. We again drove ahead to see if we could catch them running across the next clearing. We did but this time there was one less Eland in the group. Our bull had finally slowed down after probably close to 5 miles.
Besa was still on their track after all of this and we caught up to the now standing bull. Two more shots and he was finally down with 10 minutes of light left of my hunt on the last day. Turns out that my shot had just punched through the muscle of his front shoulder missing all vitals. I feel blessed and extremely lucky to have caught up to this bull. Jason and Besa worked so hard to get this Eland and I'm grateful that I didn't give up and neither did they.
We had the time of our lives and I wouldn't have wanted to spend this time with anyone else. I hope that this will be forever engrained in my sons head. He wanted me to get my Eland so bad that he said one morning that he was going to stay in camp so there was less scent and noise. After telling him that he could come and him still turning it down I started toward the truck. When I turned back to wave I could see the "I want to go so bad but I want him to get his Eland" look on his face I told him to change his shoes and come with. He grinned from ear to ear and sprinted to the tent to change. I am so glad he got to be there after he had worked just as hard all week to get this Eland. My time with him was PRICELESS.
To have my dad there meant a lot to me. He was content to just watch his son and grandson having the time of their lives. He asked me in the bow blind what he did to me to lead me to this life of hunting. My only response was, "you took me as a kid." It may not have been to Africa but it didn't matter. If I was chasing his heels up the mountain I was the happiest kid on earth. Thank you dad!!