I was three weeks into my sixth decade when we boarded the Qantas flight to Johannesburg.
I had organized seven mates and we had booked a plains game hunt package in the Limpopo Province of South Africa with Scott van Zyl of SS Pro Safaris.
The mini bus ride from the airport was an adventure on its own. We arrived at camp around midnight and were greeted by Scott, Sam and the pet warthog named Fugly! A few beers around the fire and bedtime was declared at 2.30 am.
We woke to a spectacular view of the Waterberg mountains. The lodge is right at the base of this spectacular mountain range. The property also has the Lephalale river flowing through it, which is full of crocs and hippos.
After breakfast we set about the task of sighting in our rifles. I had brought along my .300 WSM, whereas Scrub and Greg brought their .338 Win mags.
We were then allocated to our PH’s. Millsy and I were teamed up with Abel, Scrub was with Davey, Greg was with Fish, which left Evan and Luke to hunt with PH Sam. Our other two friends, Bruce and Wes were observers and mingled amongst the groups.
Our first sighting was a small herd of zebra. We stalked them over the mountain without success. We saw mobs of blue wildebeest, blesbok and impala.
A zebra appeared from nowhere and while I took aim, Abel told me not to shoot until he was sure it was a stallion. I got the nod and lowered the boom. There was a loud thud and the stallion took off seemingly unaffected. We followed the blood trail for 200 metres and there was the prize.
It is always a relief to find the animal, as the longer the tracking takes, doubts about shot placement start playing with your psyche.
After a quick lunch we were back on the trail. We parked the vehicle and proceeded on foot to a waterhole.
A huge lone blue wildebeest bull got to his feet from his shady camp. Abel put the shooting sticks up and Millsy whacked him with the .375.
The bull was knocked sideways and took off. We tracked the bull for 150 metres through the thick bush and found him piled up. These wildebeest are tough as the shot placement was perfect.
Sitting around the fire that night drinking Windhoek Draught the stories started to flow. Greg had also tasted success, eventually securing a big wildebeest bull. The centre of attention, though, was Fugly the warthog, who pined for everyone’s affection.
The next morning we drove high into the mountains in search of a kudu for Millsy. We climbed out onto a rock ledge with a 200 metre vertical drop to the valley floor.
I was taking in the spectacular view when Millsy spotted two kudu bulls. Abel told us the further one looked really big. We worked our way along the rock ledge to try to get in a position above the kudu.
After nearly two hours we were directly above the large kudu. I ranged him at 287 metres at a steep downhill angle. I handed Millsy my .300 WSM and told him to aim dead-on. At the sound of the shot the bull lunged and there was a loud thwack. The bull ran around 40 metres and toppled over. What a prize – a beautiful 57 inch kudu bull.
The talk that night was of mixed emotions. Lucan had wounded and lost a bushpig and a warthog in the same day while Scrub had wounded a wildebeest and tracked it for four hours to no avail.
Lucan’s disappointment was short-lived as he secured an excellent trophy wildebeest and impala in the following few days.
On day three we headed out to the same property as Luke, Evan and Sam. This huge property was so scrubby that the only animals we could see for more than a split second were giraffes.
Just on dark we spotted a very nice kudu bull. Knowing Evan was after a kudu, we radioed their vehicle and told them get to us on the double. A few minutes later came a call on the radio asking us for help to load a kudu. It turns out the boys were driving towards us at break-neck speed when a big kudu bull ran across the track. Evan quickly jumped out and decked him with the .375. He was a beautiful 54 inch bull, narrow style with tight curls.
For the next three days Millsy and I hunted eland. The modus operandi was to drag a cut down tree along the roads behind the vehicle and then come back and look for fresh tracks that had crossed the road.
I developed a great deal of respect for these giant antelope as they managed to elude us for three days even when we could see them up ahead in the thick stuff. Note to self, eland top of the list for next trip.
In our down-time during the eland hunt, Millsy got a beautiful zebra stallion while I nailed a massive blue wildebeest with horns just shy of 30 inches wide. I used Abel’s shoulder as a rest for the 150 metre shot.
I really enjoyed stalking the flighty impala. I passed up a lot of rams as I had set my sights on a 24 inch plus ram.
Just on dark Abel and I stalked in on a huge ram and all of a sudden Abel took a few giant strides backwards. Thinking he had spotted the biggest impala on earth, I asked what he had seen. He just pointed and right where he had walked was a spitting cobra fully reared up. Scary stuff!
The next day I finally got my prize after a lengthy stalk and a straightforward 110 metre shot off the shooting sticks. The ram measured a very respectable 24 5/8 inches.
Right on dark, Millsy nailed a beautiful ram with a 200 metre shot from the shooting sticks.
The fire-pit talk was extremely jovial that night. Lucan shot a big kudu and after a short follow up they put a finisher into the big wide 54 inch bull. There was innuendo that Evan got him but the trophy is going on Luke’s wall!
Scrub and Greg hunted with Davey and a miscommunication saw Greg shoot a giant herd zebra stallion – it was a monster. The boys didn’t hear the word “don’t” when Davey said “don’t shoot”. Greg also nailed his impala after a couple of misses.
Luke and Evan had gone with Scott to a property near the Botswana border looking for warthog. The boys pulled in quite late, singing and carrying on. They had been celebrating all the way home and stopped at a tiny pub. We looked in the back of the vehicle and there were two massive warthog – no wonder the boys were happy! Greg was gutted as the big warthog he had shot that afternoon was knocked off- twice over as the pig of the trip.
More drinks flowed and before you knew it , Luke, Evan and three of the young PH’s had given each other mowhawks.
A night to remember!
With Scrub having taken his warthog and impala in the same day, only kudu remained on his wish- list. Scrub and I hunted for the next few days with my main goal being the Limpopo bushbuck.
A flat tyre on the way to the property and two flat tyres on the property (helped out by the farmer with his two spares) were quickly forgotten when Scrub nailed a beautiful 52 inch kudu just before dark.
The .338 flattened the kudu without a twitch. Driving home with a kudu and 3 flat tyres in the back and you guessed it – we got a fourth flat tyre in a day. This must be a record!
That night Evan decided to go for a brown hyena. He and Sam went out and sat over a bait. We had just gone to bed when we heard the vehicle pull up. We got up for a look-see and Evan had nailed a monster hyena with huge teeth.
It was the last day of our 10 day hunt and I had given up on the elusive bushbuck. These mid-size antelope are largely nocturnal and their daytime habitat is the thick bush along the edge of rivers and creeks.
I had worked my butt off for a bushbuck and my only opportunity turned out to have a tip broken off. I swapped my bushbuck for a second wildebeest.
Stalking the mob of wildebeest, we spotted a very wide kudu. I was tempted but there was little depth to the curl so I passed him up. After a long stalk I took the wildebeest bull from 160 metres off the sticks. The performance of the Barnes TSX projectiles is nothing short of spectacular.
Abel and I decided to sit in a blind over a waterhole and wait for warthog. The highlight of the 5 hour wait was a sheep snake crawling over my boot. I am told they are only mildly venomous.
We decided to head for the base of the mountain to look for a warthog just before dark. Driving along the edge of the river, Abel said “shoot that bushbuck.” I didn’t see him at first and then he did the quick-walk through a tiny clearing and I had a snapshot.
Abel said “I think you missed because I heard him go into the reeds.” We walked over and there were some big splats of blood but no bushbuck. The reeds were 15 feet tall and dense. We radioed for the dog to be brought in, but soon after, Peter found a tiny drop of blood leading into a small tunnel in the reeds.
After an eternity chopping with the machete, Peter said he could see something on the ground. I peered in and saw the white spots of the bushbuck – he was dead.
I was elated as we photographed my bushbuck at the base of the mountains. We still had 20 minutes of daylight so we decided to look for a warthog. Low and behold we spot a massive 30 inch plus waterbuck. We stalked him until dark but he was too good for us.
The other boys had a day out busting baboons. Greg shot one at extreme range but it was not recoverable. Scrub shot a massive male baboon ranged at 370 metres. It fell around 100 metres to the rocks below.
The awards ceremony was held around the fire on our last night. Greg won the quiet achievers award as he was the only one to bag all five species in the package.
Scrub got shot of the trip with his baboon and Luke got pig of the trip. Greg also received commendation for letting Scott know that the beer wasn’t cold enough.
All the guys were amazed at the level of service on the safari. There was a cold beer thrust into your hand at day’s end, clothes were washed and folded daily, the food was superb and the views of the mountains were to die for.
Scrub said “we are being treated like kings.” “Not kings,” I said, “lords – Lords of Limpopo.”
Footnote: This package hunt was extremely affordable and the deal they have for 2014 is even better value. Check out their website www.ssprosafaris.com and for the package deals email Scott on email@example.com
This article was first published in the Sporting Shooter February 2014 issue.