Spiral Horn Safari Hunt – Part 2
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), my hunting report continues after the first two days of our Spiral Horn Slam Package. The hunt covered ten days of hunting that included eland, kudu, nyala, bushbuck, impala and duiker.
After three good warthog and a waterbuck bull hunts, the rest of the afternoon was fairly quiet. Wayne and Courtney encountered into a big Klippy but unfortunately one horn was broken.
Klippy with a broken horn
Scrub and Courtney were chasing impala all afternoon but the animals were very elusive. Late in the afternoon Scrub pulled off a beautiful shot from 238 m (he also has Leica Geovids with the rangefinder) that decked an impala ram. He was an old boy and his left horn was worn down – he had real character.
Pete and Ruan and their tracker, Kudu (yes, Kudu! Awesome name for a tracker), had an eventful afternoon. They picked up the tracks of three large eland bulls just after lunch. They tracked the bulls and just before dark they caught up with them where they were feeding in some thick bush. They got within 80 m but they just couldn’t get a shot. Finally, the eland decided to get out of Dodge!
We were having a beer back at the lodge when all hell broke loose. There was a commotion and the thundering of hooves. An animal started bellowing and the boys were sure a leopard had just killed a wildebeest within 300 m of the lodge. We saw leopard tracks everywhere. Since the ban on leopard hunting three years ago the numbers of these predators have increased considerably.
Before sunrise we went down to look for the leopard kill. It wasn’t pretty – the leopard had taken a large wildebeest bull and it was on its last legs. He was finished off quickly.
Martin was allocated to me today. During an interview at a small waterhole I declared today would be eland day. Would my premonition be right?
Soon after, we found fresh eland tracks crossing the river. “Two big bulls,” said Pilane, our tracker. We followed the tracks up into some stony country and Rick thought we were getting close, so he made everyone (except me) take off their boots. Even our dedicated cameraman had to take his boots off. I am still not sure what I would have said to Rick if he had asked me to take off my boots! We followed the tracks higher up into the mountains. Pilane was spot on with his tracking – especially in this stony country. He signaled us to slow down as we were getting close. Unexpectedly a herd of impala spooked in front of us. We came upon the eland tracks, which showed they were now running – bloody impala. So close!
The tracks led around the left-hand side of a large mountain. Rick thought he knew where they would be heading so we left the tracks, skirted over the mountain and waited at a small pass between the two mountains. No show! We then went down to try and cut the tracks from a different angle. No luck. After more than four hours of tracking over rocks with bare feet, my PH, my cameraman and my tracker all pulled up lame. I offered to walk back to the truck and come back for them, but Rick said that I would never find it – good point. Rick got on the radio and requested a vehicle to come and pick us up. While we were waiting under a huge baobab tree, I rebranded the name of Rick’s company form RW Safaris International to Sore-Feet Safaris.
We had a quick lunch and came back to take up the tracks where we had left off. Instead of us all going after them, Rick sent Pilane in (with his boots on) to follow up. Two hours later Pilane called in on the radio so say that he had just bumped into the eland and that a third bull had joined the other two. Pilane explained to Rick where they were heading, and with some break-neck speed driving, Rick put us ahead of them. We climbed to a high vantage point and not long after, three eland bulls came running up the mountain.
The bulls were going to cross the ridge approximately 150 m from our position. I got on the sticks and asked Rick: “Which one?” They were all big but Rick suggested that I shoot the one in the middle.
The bush was quite thick but the eland didn’t slow down as they crested the ridge. The first one came through and then the second one but there was no shot – the bush was too thick. Then the third one came through on a slightly different path to the first two. There was a tiny gap and as the eland ran through, I let rip. There was a big thump but the eland kept going. We ran over the ridge and saw an eland walking around 200 m below us. I was on the sticks and Rick said to wait until he could confirm blood. Seconds passed and the call came through: SHOOT! The problem was that the eland at that exact second walked into the bush. Rick asked if I was confident with the shot. I said it all happened so quickly but I felt good as the eland was quartering away from me quite sharply.
Martin played the video for us a couple of times and the eland was quartering away quite sharply so I felt better about our prospects. I should mention at this stage that I was using hand-loads in my .338 Win Mag with 210 gr Barnes TTSX, hence I was confident of the penetration of these projectiles.
We gave it 15 minutes and then started the follow up. After about 50 m the amount of blood was staggering and it looked like lung blood. The trail was easy to follow and we quickly came upon the bull. He was down but still had his head up. I quickly put a finisher into his neck. He was down! I couldn’t have prepared myself for the sheer size of this beast – he was huge. I don’t mind admitting I was a little emotional as this was the animal for which I had come to Africa. I hugged Rick and thanked him, and Pilane and Martin as well. Group hug!
He was a big blue bull with a huge dewlap and a nice tuft with a bit of black colouring. Rick pointed out the ivory tips on the horns and said this was not common.
It was 4.30 pm, which meant that we had been chasing this bull for 9 hours (with 30 minutes for lunch). We radioed the boys to collect the animal and we had a small party at the skinning shed.
Unfortunately Scrub’s guide, Courtney, had to go to Namibia so Rick called in another PH friend of his, Sarel. This guy has a great sense of humour and boy, can he talk! He got off to a flyer with Scrub. They took up position in a blind where the trail-cam had revealed that a large bushpig sow was feeding on bait. They were only gone an hour and were back in camp for a G&T. Job done!
We headed off in convoy at first light. We were crossing a creek when Rick hit the brakes and jumped out – fresh eland tracks! Pete and Ruan came along soon after and we left Pilane with the boys to assist with the tracking. We pushed off and went looking for waterbuck. We only saw waterbuck cows but we must have seen 200 kudu, including some nice bulls. A call came through on the radio that the boys had caught up with the eland. We drove for around 25 minutes and found them standing beside a huge eland bull. Pete had borrowed Rick’s .416 Rem Mag and drilled the bull as it was trotting away. They followed up and a quick finisher had him on the ground. Pete was elated.
Scrub and his bushpig
The whole crew with Pete's eland bull
Kudukid on the left with Scrub high above the Sand river
Rick and I sat in a baited blind waiting for bushpig. We had two honey badgers, a civet cat and a small brown hyena come in – but no bushpig.
Pete was on the sticks looking at a huge klipspringer but he didn’t pull the trigger. He hummed and ha’ed but said it just wasn’t his thing. None of us have been interested in any of the Tiny Ten on previous safaris but we were very tempted as the duiker, steenbuck and Klippys were prolific. Funnily enough, while looking for bushbuck, Ruan spotted a large steenbuck. Pete got on the sticks and whacked it from 230 m. He couldn’t believe how small it was when he got up close.
Rick’s father, Johan, has also been an outfitter all of his life. He is such an interesting, nice guy. He had been a Selous Scout and we all bought a fantastic book from him on the history of the Selous Scouts. Johan has an incredible trophy room – in fact, it is more like a museum. There are four generations of Wolvaardt trophies in there. We spent a couple of hours with our jaws dropping. I could easily have spent a day there. For anyone who hunts with Rick, this is a must-do.
Pete hadn’t had any luck with bushbuck yet so Rick organised for him and Ruan to go to a friend’s property on the river about 20 minutes away. Just before dark, two female bushbuck walked down into the river and a few minutes later a big male followed them. Pete had a difficult angling shot at around 200 m off the stick but he connected. The ram got into the dense bush but the boys found him. Our super trusty cameraman, Martin, captured it all on film.
That night Rick had two phone calls from neighbours. Word spreads quickly when there are hunters around. One neighbour said he had a surplus of zebra and asked if we wanted to shoot some at a very good price. Pete put his hand up for two and Scrub pledged one. I already have a nice zebra skin at home. The second call was from a neighbour who said there was a huge eland bull coming in to drink near his house. He offered it for half price. After offering it to Scrub first, I jumped at it.
We were perched on a high vantage point above the Sand River, waiting for daylight. Within minutes I spotted waterbuck but they sensed danger and ran across the dry riverbed. We waited patiently and 15 minutes later four female waterbuck crossed the river a bit further down – but there was no bull.
Rick said he could see the bull hiding in the thick bush. That crafty animal waited until all of the females had gone right across the riverbed and then he dashed across at speed. He stopped in the reeds on the far side. He didn’t realise that I could see him clearly from our vantage point above him. I had a perfect rest and squeezed the trigger. The shot felt good. Even when the bull ran off into the bush I wasn’t concerned. “I think you missed,” said Rick.
Fortunately, we had Martin filming the shot and he captured it perfectly. It turned out that the bullet had gone a whisper under his chest. I then ranged the spot where the bull had been – 342 m. It all happened so quickly that I didn’t realise how far away he was, and I hadn’t allowed for the bullet drop. Bummer.
I still managed to get a trophy. We checked for blood, just in case, and Martin played the video so that could pinpoint the exact spot where the bull was standing when I fired. We then found a small circle in the sand. I dug down around 8–10 inches and pulled my projectile out. The Barnes TTSX had mushroomed perfectly and I can’t recommend them highly enough for shooting trophy riverbeds!
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!