Due to the jet lag and excitement for my first African safari, I woke up several times that first night. I had two alarms set for 5:30am local time (11:30 pm), but I didn’t need either. Instead I went straight for the shower. Unfortunately, due to load shedding (explained in greater detail later), the hot water heater had cut off at about 2am, so my shower was “brisk” to put it politely.
Afterwards, I layered up for a 40 F hunt. Then we grabbed a quick sandwich and toast with Ettiene, our PH. Our spotter/driver/tracker was a multi-talented Tswana named Paulie. Following breakfast, we loaded into the bakkie and went for a dawn drive.
Before I go further, it might make sense to share a bit of background about the Wiets Ranch. Before I went on my first Safari, I spent a fair amount of time reading up on different kinds of African hunts. I also spoke with several very experienced American hunters. I heard a few “South African Horror Stories.” “Hunts” on 1000 acre properties where hunters shoot essentially tame animals from tower blinds. Animals that could have been purchased at an auction a few days before the client arrived. Wiets was very different. Yes, like most South African properties, it is fenced, but the area enclosed is approximately the size of Manhattan, and due to the fairly porous nature of the fence in places, many animals like warthog, steenbok, and duiker could come and go, more or less, at will.
The ranch owner, Wiets Botes, purchased the property in 1979. Back then, it had been essentially denuded by meat hunters. A conservationist at heart, he reintroduced breeding groups of most of Southern Africa’s wild game and with the exception of a few special variants like golden blesbok, all the animals on the property now were born and raised there. From the get-go, I told Ettiene that I came to South Africa to hunt not to shoot, so I was gung-ho for long stalks, he was pleased. Sadly, some Americans do come to Africa to sit on the bakkie and just bag the Kudu Bull with the best horns, end of story, but to each their own.
With that spirit in mind, we mainly drove to get a sense for the land. For the first time I saw incredible herds of Springbok, Blue Wildebeest, Blesboks, Red Hartebeest, and then the occasional Giraffe, Zebra, and White Rhino. For someone who has been on Safari this was likely “nothing special,” but as a first timer, I was stunned.
We took several gigs of photos and videos while hunting. Sometime in the mid-morning, we spotted a mixed group of Elands. Here they are, several hundred yards away (200mm telephoto w/ 2x teleconverter):
We went after him. Having driven past so many animals, I was a bit concerned that maybe the animals weren’t afraid of man. Not so. We got about 50 yards from a Blue Wildebeest Bull. He was old, with a great set of horns. Ettiene set up the sticks and as I got ready, he turned towards us and started stomping. He was not only aware of our presence, he wasn’t happy about it. Just like that, he was gone. Clearly, these animals were wild. At this point, the Eland probably winded us as they were long gone. Besides the Eland and Blue Wildebeest, we saw Lechwe ewes and Springboks as well.
No luck on Eland:
Despite the unsuccessful hunt on the Eland and Blue Wildebeest, I was having a fantastic time. Since I told my PH I he was free to put me on anything (with the exception of Giraffe. More on Giraffe later), we had a lot of options. So, a bit later, as we were stalking, we crossed paths with a nice Impala Ram. He was alone, and probably an outcast due to his age. We stalked until we were roughly 50 yards away. The PH set up the shooting tripod, told me to get ready to shoot, while he gauged his age. The Impala turned towards us at the same time Ettiene said shoot. Before this trip, I watched the DVD of the Perfect Shot, and I visualized the Impala’s heart. I squeezed the trigger, and he died where he stood. Since Impalas are relatively small, I used the 140 gr. ammo and it did its job. The Impala would later be our dinner on Wednesday.
Taking aim on Impala, I used the TAB sling for additional stability:
Paulie brought the bakkie, we loaded him up and returned to the ranch house for lunch.
After lunch, we saw some nice Kudu bulls, but none that were old enough to pursue.
At one point in the afternoon, Ettiene spotted a Blue Wildebeest bull. He was old, probably very old. Ettiene asked if I wanted to hunt him. I said, “Of course!” So we circled around so that we could stalk him from upwind. Fortunately for us, he had not noticed us. At about 100 yards away, we could just make out the points of his horns as he was obscured by brush. Ettiene set up the sticks and told me to get ready. The next move was to be the Wildebeest’s. He moved into sight, quartering-towards. I aimed up the leg, roughly 1/3 the way up the body. I fired. He bucked once, and ran. Ettiene heard the Kugelschlag and said, “ag, good shot!”
I was a bit more concerned. The shot felt good, but when you are hunting, you never know until you know.
Paulie, our tracker came. We went to the spot where the shot connected and sure enough, there was fresh blood. Ettiene told me to reload, and follow Paulie closely. Blue Wildebeest, have been known to charge when wounded, not likely, but still possible. The spoor was quite voluminous, clearly, this was not a grazing shot. After only about 80 yards, we found the Wildebeest. He had already expired. Ettiene was enthusiastic because he was a fantastic old bull. I was happy because I had done my part. At the skinner, we saw that the 175 gr Swift A-Frame was lodged against the skin of the opposite shoulder. It was a clean double-lung hit. That an A-Frame didn’t completely pass through is a good indicator of the toughness of a Blue Wildebeest.
The A-frame after the Wildebeest:
After the Wildebeest, we headed back:
After settling in, we ate a nice dinner with Ettiene, Marita, and Freek. That night I sleep quite soundly.
The Day 4 we hunted all morning, got a bit cold, but failed to spot any animal worth hunting after. So we went in for a mid-morning nap before lunch. Quite amusingly, as I began to get settled, Ettiene came in somewhat excited… “Tracker spotted a few big Eland bulls, you want to go hunt them?” I grabbed my rifle and off we went on foot. After ~30 minutes of hiking we spotted a glimpse of two Eland bulls. Of course, we had to track and stalk much closer to get a shot. After what seemed like hours of stalking (but was probably closer to an hour) we got to about 200 yards away and the bulls had stop moving. Unfortunately, brush blocked my shot, so the two of us had to quietly creep forward the last 25 yards to get into position. As usual, I took the shot from sticks. He was standing broadside, presenting his left side. The 175 gr bullet gave him a clean double lung shot. He ran about 80 yards before expiring. Afterwards the guys came and a large group of us lifted the Eland onto the bakkie.
Afterwards, we ate a nice lunch, and then went to glass from the kopje but didn’t see much.
Day 5 it rained pretty heavily in the morning but we hunted. Didn’t see much, but we stalked after a Gemsbok and a Waterbuck.
Over lunch we visited the Wiets White Lion cages. Being 5 feet away from an aggressive, snarling lion was pretty wild. They would really have eaten us if there wasn’t a cage separating us.
In the afternoon was probably my most exciting hunt. As we were walking back to the bakkie following an unsuccessful stalk of a Gemsbok, we spotted a nice Springbok Ram only about 40 yards away who didn’t notice us. My PH set up the shooting sticks and as I put the rifle on them, the Springbok heard the rumble of the truck and bolted, I thought we had been busted… Ettiene said, “Stay on him, stay on him, he’ll stop, he’ll stop.” I panned through about a 60 degree arc, just following the Springbok in my scope. True to the PH’s word, he stopped about 180 yards away and turned, only giving me a frontal profile shot. Knowing we had about 2 seconds before he bolted again, the PH said, “Shoot!” I aimed for and hit him right in the heart. It was close to perfect.
Day 6 we stalked some Kudus, 3 Waterbuck bulls, and eventually reached an area with a big tower. Ettiene planned to climb the tower to get a good vantage point over the area, but we saw a few Warthogs trotting about 50 yards away. They hadn’t noticed us, so we set up to shoot. At about 35 yards, I took a nice broadside shot on a slowly moving warthog… and he RAN, Ettiene said, “Shoot him again if you can!” I tracked him on the sticks as he moved from right to left and took a second shot which caused him to crash into the ground. We walked up and made sure he was dead before we let our guard down (I’ve been told it’s the dead warthogs that maul you). As we went over the warthog Ettiene noted that the Warthog was making a beeline towards a hole that was another 10-20 yards away. Had I missed the follow-up shot, he’d have made it into the hole and I would have lost a nice hog.
After lunch, we were focused pretty intensely on Kudu. We tracked several groups but they kept giving us the slip. Finally as the sun started to set we spotted a group of 4 Kudu bulls. It was very hard for me to judge antler size but Etienne spotted an old bull who stood out. The three of us stalked very, very quietly using every scrap of tree, brush, and leaf to conceal our approach. We got approximately 80 yards but they were still partly hidden. I set up on the sticks and waited for the bulls to show themselves. I stood, rifle ready for 20 minutes. The kudu began to move. Each Kudu offered a clean shot but Etienne said to wait for the fourth, but meanwhile we were concerned that one of the other three would spot us and get spooked. Thankfully they didn’t spot us and we had the wind in our favor. The 4th presented a nice quartering towards shot while slowly sauntering about 70 yards away. The shot was clean double-lung heart shot. Despite using a 175 gr bullet there was no exit wound. The animal ran about 50 yards.
Following a wonderful hunt, with delicious game meat from my trophies, Cape Town was a relaxing diversion. I would definitely recommend the services of the Wiets Ranch, Marita, and Ettiene. The entire experience was a fantastic first African Safari.