The rain had stopped as we stalked through the damp understory of the African bush, hoping to intercept the kudu bull we had spotted a few hundred yards from where we left the truck. My senses were on full alert as we wove our way through the foliage. The birdsong was loud and incredible, while the smell of the surrounding vegetation, all foreign and unique to Africa, filled my brain to capacity. We stopped on a short ridge overlooking a small valley. My guide set up the shooting sticks and I settled in to wait for the bull to reveal his presence. We were hunting in the Pongola area in Zululand, South Africa, and I was on the 8th day of my quest for kudu. After waiting on the sticks for about 15 minutes, my guide, Fanass, became excited and started pointing into a dense, leafy area below us, approximately 200 yards away. I saw movement through the brush just before the bull stepped out into a small clearing. The bull stopped to peer behind him at his back trail, quartering away slightly, and I put the cross hairs on the crease of his left shoulder …
I was on my first African safari, hunting with two friends, Rob Morgan and Don Hunley. We had booked our adventure with Izak Kirsten, proprietor of WOW Africa and the Madaka Game Ranch. Both Don and Rob were going to hunt Cape buffalo, while I had gemsbok and southern greater kudu on my most wanted list.
We left the States on 1 October and arrived in Johannesburg on the third. We were met at the airport by our cameraman, CJ, who drove us to our first destination. The plan was to hunt buffalo first. Izak had arranged for Don and Rob to hunt with Harloo Safaris in the Zululand bushveld and I was to be an observer on the hunt.
It was raining when we arrived at the lodge. We met professional hunters, Niel Uys and Falaki of Harloo Safaris, and Izak arrived shortly after. We had just enough time to change clothes and stow our luggage before we were off to take a drive around the reserve and to check the sight-in on the rifles.
The animals were amazing! Seeing African wildlife for the first time in their natural habitat, not in zoos, was surreal and something I will never forget. Don and Rob’s buffalo hunts were epic adventures and I was blessed to be able to share the experience with them. I will leave the story for them to tell in their own words but I will say this, I will be back for my Cape buff!
My hunt for gemsbok and kudu began on the 7th at the Madaka Game Ranch. Our first hunt of that morning did not turn up a kudu but we found some gemsbok. We stalked them and I was able to make a good shot through a small opening in some bushes. Shooting with my 7×64 (very similar to a .280 Remington) I bagged a very nice gemsbok.
We continued the hunt for a kudu that evening and on subsequent days without turning up a shooter but I did harvest a great-looking impala and a beautiful blue wildebeest.
The terrain on the Madaka Ranch ranges from beautiful, lush, misty mountains, to rivers and African plains dotted with ubiquitous acacia trees that resemble the Serengeti. Animals were everywhere. I saw herds of impala, blesbok, springbok, red hartebeest and zebra, along with giraffe, wildebeest, buffalo, eland, warthogs and ostrich, too. But I was after a kudu. After five days of hunting, the decision was made to go to the Pongola area and try our luck there. There was a group prior to us that had hunted kudu in the area but they were not successful, so even though I was hopeful, I wasn’t too optimistic – after all, this IS hunting! I resigned myself to thinking if it was going to happen, it would happen. I was along for the ride and having a great time.
The first morning of the hunt in Pongola was almost over within 30 minutes. I was hunting with Fanass, a PH from Pongola, my PH from Madaka, named Hercules, and my friend, Don Hunley.
We found a herd of kudu with a magnificent bull in the open along a riverbed. We made a stalk and attempted to get into a good position. The kudu made it to an island of cover, which was surrounded by open space. This seemed to be a ‘slam dunk’ and I was confident the bull was mine, but after waiting for 20 – 30 minutes it was obvious something was going awry. We discovered the herd making their way out of my ‘slam dunk trap’ via an unseen low spot. Quickly, we hustled our way around and got above them. Fanass set up the sticks and whispered to me that the bull would be the last one coming out into the open. I watched through the scope as cow after cow walked through the clearing, the anticipation causing my heart to pound in my chest – but the bull never materialised. The ‘grey ghost’ had given us the slip and left us scratching our heads!
We continued on our way. After a couple of hours Fanass stopped and we got out of the truck. I had mentioned earlier that I might be interested in a warthog if the opportunity of a suitable animal presented itself. Since arriving in South Africa, I had been seeing hundreds of warthogs. They seemed to be everywhere but all were either females or smaller males. We slowly walked for about a hundred yards into an open river plain when my guide stopped and set up the shooting sticks.
He pointed to an area with long, green grass and said there was a warthog. I wasn’t too excited to be stalking a warthog when we could be hunting my kudu – that is, until the beast lifted his head and I saw what ‘shooter’ looked like. It was the biggest warthog I have ever seen! A very respectable boar with huge tusks and I was very glad I was able to get him. We hunted the rest of the day without seeing the kudu bull I was seeking.
It started to rain during the night. I only had one more day to find my bull before we were scheduled to be back at Madaka. My early optimism began to fade. Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be. Hercules, the PH from Madaka, convinced me, practically twisting my arm, to hunt one more time even though it was raining. I reluctantly agreed. We were up and hunting by 6:30 and had been driving along looking for animals for a few hours, when I glimpsed what appeared to be the rear end of a kudu, disappearing into the brush. We went past for about 300 yards before stopping.
Hercules and the tracker confirmed they saw at least two bulls. Fanass, Hercules and I began our stalk, while the tracker made his way back to where the bulls had been spotted. The plan was to get into position, then have the tracker slowly push the bulls uphill.
The plan worked flawlessly. The bull stepped into a small clearing and stopped. Taking a deep breath, I exhaled and squeezed the trigger. The bull kicked at the sound of the bullet hitting home. Fanass said he heard the bull go down. But I had seen a bull run away after the shot. I wasn’t fully convinced we were going to find an animal down. Fanass’s radio crackled to report as we worked our way over to where we had last seen the bull. The tracker hadn’t found him and my spirits began to slump. A few hundred feet more and the radio crackled again – my bull was down! The range of emotions I felt that rainy morning went from one extreme to another. The recovery of this magnificent animal and placing my hands on him was the best feeling in the world. A dream fulfilled – a reality that to this day I find hard to believe I actually experienced.
Many thanks to all that made my trip so memorable. Most notably Izak and Linky Kirsten with WOW Africa – you guys made me feel like part of your family – and Niel Uys with Harloo Safaris. Thanks also to my friends, Rob Morgan and Don Hunley – let’s do it again in 2020. And finally to Hercules Adendorff, thank you for the motivation to hunt in the rain! ASM