The author with his waterbuck
Spiral Horn Safari Hunt – Part 3
By Mike Cleary
After an incredible safari with RW Safaris International near Musina in the Limpopo Province (see AFRICA’S SPORTSMAN MAGAZINE: Jul/Aug/Sept 2018 – Part 1, and Oct/Nov/Dec 2018 – Part 2) my hunting report continues after the first seven days of our Spiral Horn Slam Package. The hunt covered ten days of hunting that included eland, kudu, nyala, bushbuck, impala and duiker.
After a forty-minute drive we arrived at the waterbuck property. I met the owner and his son – both nice guys. This property was very dry and looked in desperate need of rain. We drove to a nearby kopje, climbed to the top and started glassing. A jackal and a few impala were the only sightings. We then drove to the next big kopje and straightaway spotted waterbuck on the far side of the river. “Cows only,” Rick said. We went for a long walk along the edge of the river and saw a large kudu bull and another herd of waterbuck cows.
We got into the ‘bakkie’ (pick-up truck) and drove to another spot. Rick stopped and we started glassing a group of waterbuck. I could see a young bull but then Rick pointed out a bigger bull. I could tell he was reasonable but I knew I would be disappointed if I took him. I thought about it a bit more as the waterbuck moved off. I told Rick I would pass.
I am glad I did, as we had to walk only for another five minutes before we spotted a big bull. He was much bigger in the body and horns and of a much darker colour. This was the type of bull I was after. We stayed hidden behind a bush for some time, glassing the bull. He was partly obscured by a patch of acacia. Finally the bull walked a few steps to the side and Rick set up the sticks. The bottom half of the bull’s chest was covered by tree branches so I only had a small window to aim. At the shot I felt confident but the bull took off. I can only think my shot went over his shoulder.
We were fortunate in that the big old bull turned to the right when he got close to the open country flanking the river. We followed him, jogging for several hundred metres. Every time we stopped the bull took off again. An opportunity presented itself when the bull stopped in a patch of acacia – there was a clear shot for his vitals.
The shot felt good but the bull took off again. Rick said: “You missed!” but both Martin and I had heard the distinctive thump. Martin quickly replayed the video and we could tell the shot was good – a fraction high but definitely in the lungs. We waited 15 minutes and then started tracking. There was absolutely no blood. Rick stopped, crouched down and scanned the area through his binos.
“I see a dead waterbuck!” he exclaimed. I was elated. The bull had expired after a 200-metre dash. These animals are tough!
The drive back to the skinning shed was very jovial. I had taken all of my main trophies for the trip and still had a few days left for some fun and perhaps a few extras.
While checking bushpig bait in the afternoon, I spotted a nice male duiker. I said to Martin: “We don’t need a PH to hunt this giant critter,” and we had a laugh. Rick was down in the riverbed and we motioned for him to come up. I pointed out the duiker and he got very excited. He said it was huge and that I should shoot it. I said: “Na! it doesn’t interest me.” He then said: “I will do you a deal – swap the torch that mounts on your scope for the duiker. OK?”
Rick signaled to Pilane to bring the sticks up from the bakkie. We snuck in to around 90 metres. Up went the sticks and down went the duiker. Rick measured him: 4¾” – he is Rowland Ward. I told Rick I had shot bigger rabbits!
Rick and I spent a fruitless few hours in the bushpig blind but Scrub and Sarel had success – a porcupine. Scrub sent his first shot too high and it went straight through the raised quills. He aimed a bit lower with his second shot and bagged the animal.
Kruger National Park
Today was our rest day but we were still up before the sun. Our legendary camera man, Martin, aka Belvedere, was leading the photographic safari to Kruger. Rarely have I met someone who took to his new nickname as quickly as Belvedere. The four of us had the best day ever. Kruger is mind-blowing. The number of animals has to be seen to be believed!
The first animal we saw was a large lone bull elephant. He was doing what elephants do – eating a 20-foot tall tree!
Rick and I with my trophy waterbuck
Scrub and his porcupine
The Rowland Ward duiker
We ended up seeing 26 species. We literally saw hundreds of elephant and buffalo; impala were in impressive numbers. The highlight was seeing a roan and a small herd of tsessebe.
Hippos and crocs were in abundance, as were zebra, waterbuck, nyala and blue wildebeest. We saw a kudu that easily went over 60 inches. The buffalo got me excited. There were some huge old boys.
One of the highlights for me was Crooks Corner on the north-eastern boundary of Kruger. It is at the junction of three countries: South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. It was awe-inspiring looking out over the dry Limpopo River, thinking about safaris to come in Zim and Moz!
We didn’t want to leave but it was rapidly approaching dark and they shut the gates at 6 pm so Belvedere had to do some fancy driving and we arrived at Pafuri Gate at 5.50 pm. The guard wasn’t happy so I asked him to have a photo taken with us and we gave him some sweets. His smile returned!
What a day – up there with the best day of hunting. I took approximately 800 photos and Belvedere took even more.
Beautiful bull elephant
The pressure was off as we had secured all of the main trophies we came for. Now it was a matter of whatever Africa would throw at us!
Pete decided he was going to try for a second nyala – such was the quality and abundance on the property. We all met for lunch and we commented that the wind had kept the animals in the cover. Pete had barely seen a nyala, which is very unusual.
After lunch we decided to set up all the trophies in the riverbed to get some photos.
While Scrub and I were taking photos in the riverbed, Pete and Ruan returned with smiles on their dials. A quick look in the bakkie showed that Pete had nailed another beautiful nyala, very similar to his first one. “Twins,” said Pete. It was the only mature bull they had seen in the windy conditions. It was sheltered beside the river and Pete drilled it off the sticks from around 140 metres.
Crooks Corner. Standing in South Africa on the banks of the Limpopo River with Zim to the left and Moz to the right
Check the bosses on this old boy
Leaving Kruger at Pafuri Gate with the ‘gatekeeper’
Pete and Ruan with his 2nd nyala bull
Our final day
Our affable camera man, Belvedere, aka Martin Muller of African Sun Productions, decided he would get some drone footage of us leaving camp on our final day. We had all the bakkies lined up and we departed one at a time giving our farewell wave – and then things got serious. The drone started spiralling out of control, crashed into a tree and took a huge nose-dive into the ground. The poor old drone was a write-off. I have since seen the footage and it is quite incredible. Martin included the ‘crash music’ as the drone was sailing down to earth out of control and then the huge thump!
Fortunately this wasn’t an ominous sign. Scrub, Sarel, Rick and I hunted together on our final day and we had a ball. It was carefree hunting. Scrub and I were both happy to pull the trigger, but we wanted something different. I was tempted when Rick and Sarel spotted a large kudu in a group of five big kudu bulls. It was late afternoon and the sight of these big bulls is etched in my memory. He was a 55- incher but not wide enough to be different from what I already have at home. I was also keen to nail a huge impala. Hindsight is a wonderful thing – we saw three or four impala early on the trip that we estimated at 26 or 27 inches; they were monsters! Coulda … shoulda – but didn’t.
Kudukid and his African trophies
After lunch we headed to the neigbour’s place to find this (“promised”) huge eland bull. Unfortunately, he was a no-show. We came back again three days later and still couldn’t find any trace of him.
Luckily the boys had a better day than I had. Pete scored his two zebra and Scrub managed to poleaxe his zebra with a front-on shot.
The boys got back for a late afternoon hunt so we all decided to go out together for a bit of fun. We spotted a couple of huge buffalo bulls. Rick said that three of them would go 42 inches or better. Very tempting but not in the budget for this trip. A few other lucky hunters would probably be less constrained than we were.
The highlight of the afternoon was that Scrub disproved the theory that the .308 is not enough gun for barbels (African catfish). With his marksmanship on display, he perfectly executed a one-shot kill. Pilane waded into the knee- deep water and retrieved it for his dinner.
Rick made a call to a nearby friend, who also owns a large farm on the Sand River. Rick assured me that there were large numbers of waterbuck over there. Tomorrow was waterbuck day, he declared.
That night, Rick and I sat in a blind that had a mob of bushpig feeding on bait, according to the trail-cam. Within an hour we could hear bushpig. They came into the bait and ran away. They came back and then ran straight up the hill and stopped beside the blind. I had four or five bushpig standing outside the blind – not four feet from me. I could hear them breathing and I could smell their breath. It was scary and exhilarating at the same time. To our relief, after 10 minutes of not moving a muscle, the bushpig wandered off and didn’t return. Duh!
We were heading back to camp as the light was fading, when a duiker bolted across the track. Scrub and Sarel jumped off the bakkie and jogged into the bush. The sticks went up and Scrub’s .308 boomed for the last time on the safari. The duiker bit the dust and after a quick photo session we headed for the skinning shed.
We arrived at the skinning shed to a very pleasant surprise, as a large kudu bull was being caped. You couldn’t wipe the smile from Pete’s face.
Early in the safari, Rick told us that there was a large kudu bull that had been seen hobbling around with some sort of injury to its hip. Rick said we could shoot it for free as it would be doing the animal a favour. We were all searching for it during the entire safari – but guess who spotted the wobbly old bull just before dark on the last day!! Bloody Pete did! He had a beautiful curl to his 53-inch horns but unfortunately they didn’t get a photo.
Wendy, our master chef, turned it on for the last supper! Nyala schnitzel was the main course of the four-course meal. Some sort of boinky thing was for dessert.
After dinner, while sipping a few G&Ts we reflected on the safari. We all agreed that Rick Wolvaardt had over-delivered in every aspect of this safari. The food was exceptional and Wendy was tipped accordingly. It was up there with the best food we had ever eaten. The accommodation was first-class with spectacular views. Most importantly, there were lots of animals and plenty of quality game animals. You always worry when you pay for a package that one or two of the animals will be scarce. Sure, we had to really work hard for some of the animals but they were all there in good numbers.
We were thrilled with the quality of our trophies. However, a safari is more than that. It is the overall experience that separates a good safari from a great safari. And this was great! From the simple touches, like personalised shirts and coffee cups, the trip to Kruger, the few hours spent at the Wolvaardt trophy room/museum – these are the extras that make a safari great.
Rick is young and keen and he over-delivered on every aspect of the safari. His gorgeous fiancée, Melanie, shared dinner with us every night and joined in the banter. His father lives on the concession. It is a true family affair. I want to thank Rick and his team for giving us the real African experience. I recommend him highly and would not hesitate to go back again (2019, I believe) and I would love to see others supporting his business, RW Safaris International.
Could I also conclude by giving our hard-working cameraman, Martin Muller, a huge thank you. He worked his butt off, day and night, and the footage he produced is amazing. Take a look at his work on Youtube by googling African Sun Productions. You might even find Pete, Scrub and me starring in a few of his epic movies.
Africa’s Sportsman Magazine – Jan, Feb, Mrch 2019, p21