The old Limpopo bushbuck that I hunted on the banks of the Limpopo River with Alex Michaletos of Safari Outfitters.
I used my double rifle for the hunt. What a challenge!

We were travelling in my Land Cruiser through Limpopo Province en route to one of the northernmost parts of our beautiful country. Our destination was somewhere between the Zanzibar and Platjan border posts where South Africa meets the Tuli Block of Botswana. Just outside Maasstroom, about 15 km from our destination, we stopped and cracked a cold one. It was January and the heat was almost unbearable, close to hitting 50 °C. Tucked behind my seat was my trusty double rifle in .500 NE calibre. I had booked a hunt with Alex Michaletos of Safari Outfitters, looking for an old Limpopo bushbuck ram. Doesn’t make sense, right? Bushbuck with a big-bore double rifle?

I met Alex some years back and have hunted with him a couple of times. He is a great professional hunter and loves the whole experience that goes with the hunt. Alex is an extremely good hunter – what separates him from the rest, is the way he hunts with his bow and arrow. He only uses the walk-and-stalk method. In my opinion, hunting on foot with a bow is one of the most challenging ways to do it. Over the years, Alex told me about his various hunts, one of which he found especially challenging – hunting the Limpopo bushbuck on foot. I was so intrigued by his stories and adventures that I simply had to experience this type of hunting for myself.
There was just one problem – I am not a bowhunter. So, what to do to experience a hunt the same way as Alex? I needed to limit myself and my gear to achieve the same level of excitement. I would do this by taking away one of the big advantages a modern-day hunter enjoys – the telescopic sight on my rifle. Of course I also had to limit the shooting distance. To aim and shoot at something with iron sights, hoping you will hit it, is one thing, but to carefully place a killing shot into a specific animal requires a bit more skill and patience. The goal was to use my gun with iron sights that I shoot best with, and to limit the shooting distance to 50 m (55 yards) maximum.
With the goals clearly set, the planning started. I practised on a duiker-sized target at 35 m, shooting offhand as Alex said there would be no time to set up the shooting sticks. My gun was shooting straight, and soon the long wait was over and the date set for the first week in January – not a very practical time to go hunting in Africa. The hunt would take place right next to and sometimes in the Limpopo River bed. As our hunting area did not receive the usual summer rains, the river had not come down in flood yet. Consequently, there were many areas suitable for walking and stalking, which would otherwise have been either flooded or totally inaccessible. By tolerating a little heat (45 °C plus!), we would gain these advantages.

Reaching the hunting area after a five-hour drive, we immediately gathered our gear to try and get in three or four hours of hunting the first afternoon. With an animal as elusive as a bushbuck there are no guarantees, so the more time spent in the bush, the better your chances of success. When we entered the area through a gate, Alex explained that it was the foot-and-mouth disease cattle fence erected by the South African government, stretching for hundreds of kilometres in both directions. This electrified fence ensures that no infected domestic animals cross the river, should there be an outbreak of this dreadful disease. The same type of fence occurs on the opposite side of the river on the Botswana side. The two fences are a few kilometres apart.
But what about the area in between these fences? This is “wild Africa” – there are no internal fences in this area, so for thousands of hectares the animals are roaming as free as one can get in the modern world of privately-owned land. An abundance of impala and kudu feed on the river banks, with waterbuck, bushbuck and klipspringer scattered all over the banks of the mighty Limpopo as well – a piece of paradise. Then you realise the best is yet to come, with elephant, lion, leopard, hippo and crocodile also inhabiting this tract of land. Within minutes I spotted the first pile of elephant dung, as well as fresh tracks of a lone old elephant bull. The double rifle over my shoulder at least gave me some sense of security. At this moment I realised that a bowhunter has even more guts than I had thought, hunting these areas on foot with no rifle to stop a charging elephant or hippo …

We sat down and Alex handed me some face paint. At first I thought it was silly, but I decided to humour him and applied it as if I were entering a camouflage competition. That afternoon, by walking slowly as per Alex’s instruction, and stopping frequently to listen for any sounds (snapping branches / twigs, moving sand / rocks), I saw more bushbuck than ever before in my life. Standing dead still with the wind in our favour, a few ewes came as close as 15 m. We only saw one mature ram that was gone in a flash – I knew it was not going to be easy to bag the right animal. We also encountered a big, solitary elephant bull late that afternoon. Were it not for the way we hunted – slow, constantly checking the wind and listening for sounds – we would have stumbled right into him, putting us and him in great danger. We backed off a couple of hundred metres and continued in a big circle around the old fellow.

As we reached the river, Alex showed me one of his favourite spots – a natural spring with water running from a big rock all year round. With the clouds building up in the background, some of the most beautiful nature scenes unfolded. We now hunted in the dry river bed of the Limpopo.

The dry river bed of the mighty Limpopo River in the background. With normal summer rains, this would have been a swirling water mass. On the left is the natural spring water flowing from a rock 365 days per year – Alex tells us more about this in the video. Be sure to scan the QR code to watch the video of the complete hunt.

The terrain constantly changed from sandy river bed to huge rock formations. Loose rocks made it very difficult to walk quietly, and we would often hear a fleeing animal, followed by the dog-like bark of a bushbuck, knowing he had heard us long before we spotted him.
Alex stopped at a crocodile nest where about 30 to 40 young had hatched a week prior to our hunt. The light was fading and we desperately hoped for an old bushbuck to make a mistake, but it was not meant to be. We called it a day an hour after sunset, and when we finally reached our vehicle, it was still 36 °C. Even without a bushbuck in the salt, I had one of the most memorable hunting days – out in the bush with a good mate, experiencing Africa like it was decades or even centuries ago. Walking among giants, seeing centuries-old trees and crocodiles, one is humbled in such a big way that it is difficult to describe. Huddled around a small leadwood fire, we sipped some of Ireland’s finest on the rocks, reliving the day. We also planned the next day, trying to bag a mature bushbuck ram.
The next morning, we set off at 4.30 am, reaching the hunting area well before sunrise. I immediately put on my face paint as I was pleasantly surprised at how well it camouflages one’s face in the bush. I realised this when watching the footage of our first day around the campfire that evening. Apart from hunting, Alex and I were also making a movie. As the stalk made it too difficult to bring along an extra cameraman, Alex did the filming. When we started hunting, my back and legs were aching from all the climbing, balancing, and jumping over streams, rocks and mud puddles the previous day. But with the Limpopo bushveld coming alive with the sounds of animals, birds and insects all around, the aches and pains were soon forgotten. We saw our first bushbuck before sunrise – a beautiful ewe at less than 20 m. We stood motionless and our camouflage obviously worked because she stared at us for about a minute and then continued feeding. We watched her for about five minutes before she disappeared into the thickets.
We stalked through the dry drainage pipes of the Limpopo River as slowly and quietly as possible, the bark of a bushbuck reminding us every now and then that we were not being careful enough. There’s nothing like being reminded you are hunting in Africa when stepping on an elephant track. To step on a leopard track imprinted inside an elephant track, however, is a rare occurrence! We found the spot where the leopard had drunk during the night. That whole morning I couldn’t help scouting all the big rock formations and leadwood trees, hoping to see it, probably just lying there and watching us move through its territory.

Elephant tracks

Note the tracks of the leopard where he drank water somewhere during the night. We came across these tracks just before I got my bushbuck.

We moved so carefully that we saw two porcupine napping outside their den. It was only on closer inspection that they saw us and dove for cover. Alex slowly moved away from the river and I could not help wondering why. We bumped into a couple of rams that morning but none worth taking, as they were all young. We saw plenty of females, so I knew that the old guys had to be out there somewhere; it was just a matter of being in the right spot at the right time.

Although the river is not flowing, some pools have a lot of water.
The summer thunderstorm brewing in the background sets the scene for unbelievably scenic photos.

As I was still questioning Alex’s method of walking on slightly higher ground and not in the reeds, he stopped and listened carefully. Alex was both cameraman and PH at the same time – not an easy task when hunting something like a bushbuck. He kept listening and I asked him in our own sign language if he had heard something. He signalled that he was not sure but we should continue even slower. The day was heating up and we were just about to break for early lunch when a bushbuck ram appeared out of the reeds to our left like an arrow from a bow. I instinctively raised and pointed my double rifle at the movement with my finger on the safety, ready to take a quick shot. It was a young ram and definitely not worth taking. He was gone in a flash. As I was about to lower my rifle, I spotted something in the reeds less than 20 m away that did not blend in with the surroundings. It was the two sharp points of a bushbuck ram’s horns. Moving back half a step, I could clearly see the head. With my iron sights already on the ram’s shoulder, I whispered to Alex to start filming. I asked him if he could see the ram and he agreed that it was a “shooter”. I slipped off the safety and the roar of the .500 NE shattered the silence. The buck jumped up and headed out of the reeds at lightning speed. At 18 m there is not a whole lot that can go wrong with a heart / lung shot, but somehow there is always a bit of doubt creeping in as an animal speeds off after the shot. Within seconds I could hear him going down in the bushes some 40 paces away. Everything went quiet again …

Walking up to the bushbuck, a whole lot of mixed emotions washed over me. A strange feeling of pride was uppermost while still on the blood spoor, knowing my trophy animal was down. That feeling was immediately replaced by a kind of humbleness that usually overwhelms a hunter. I don’t think there is a single word that can describe this feeling or state of mind one finds oneself in. That happened the moment I saw the downed ram and realised what a prized trophy I had just hunted! It was a priceless moment. Weighing in at just over 100 lb, the ram was old with thick horn bases and battle scars on his coat and horns to prove he had been defending his territory for many years. The 570 gr bullet entered on the left shoulder and exited through the ribs on the other side, taking out both lungs in the process – quick and clean. What a privilege it was to have hunted such a beast – a fierce competitor on the banks of the Limpopo River, giving anyone who takes him on a real big-game experience.
To my buddy Alex and Safari Outfitters, a real big thank you. Every trip with you guys turns into an unforgettable experience. This bushbuck hunt was, and probably will be for many years to come, one of the best hunts of my career. The way we hunted made it feel like we were experiencing something of the “old Africa”, walking in the footsteps of giants in places not accessible to the average Joe – a privilege indeed. I am already looking forward to our next adventure! ASM

The smile says it all. I took this old ram at a mere 18 m.

Africa's Sportsman Show Episode 30