Safari Adventures of a Neophyte Hunter – Part II

August 14th, 2013 by davesterli in News

Given the missteps of the prior 3 days, you could imagine my surprise when Innes turned to me early on Day 4, pointed to a Steenbuck, and asked if I wanted to shoot it.  “Sure!” I said.  A small target that seemed to rarely stand still, and that looks like Bambi, except cuter…what could be better?

We drove past the Steenbuck then set off on foot for a 10-minute trek that got us back in the vicinity of the animal.  He was eating grass just behind a large pile of dead branches.  I took deep breaths to stay calm, and tried to keep my heart rate at a normal pace.  Innes got us into a good position, set down the sticks, and I got the Steenbuck in my site.  For the first time outside of the blind, I felt the same confidence that I had felt at the range.  The shot was probably an inch or so high, but at 100 yards, I certainly was not complaining.  The Steenbok fell were he was standing, dying almost instantly.

“Great shot!” said Innes.  “If you can shoot a Steenbuck at 100 yards, you can shoot a Gemsbok at 100 yards”, he reminded me. 

The Steenbuck was not initially on my trophy list, but I’m glad the opportunity arose.  It was one of my two best shots of the trip, and it gave me confidence that led to another success later in the day.

Steenbuck, and the cold heartless bastard that shot him.


After lunch, we headed back out, hoping for another shot at a Gemsbok.  Trying to recreate the prior day’s opportunity (but with different results), we walked a while with the intention of working our way through the bush towards a watering hole.  We were still a couple hundred yards from our goal when Innes and Kleinboy stopped suddenly.  We were in heavy brush, but ahead of us just 50-60 yards, a Gemsbok was barely visible through the trees.  It was a mature animal (based on the size of the horns), and both male and female Gemsbok are hunted, so discerning the gender was not necessary.

I got her (as it turned out) in my site, and calmly pulled the trigger.  The shot was perfect.  Right through the bone and into the vitals.  She ran 20-30 yards deeper into the brush, and then collapsed.  It took a minute or two for her to stop fighting, but finally the last bit of energy left her body.

We had initially trekked pretty far into the brush, and the Gemsbok had taken us even further.  Trees and dense brush now surrounded us.  Innes looked down at the 300-400 pound animal.  He looked around and considered our predicament.  Then, in a moment that could have come from a Dirk Pitt novel, he looked at me with a satisfied grin.  “Nice shot.  Now…how the fook are we going to get her out of here?”

From left to right: Kleinboy, Innes, Dave, Gemsbok

=========================================================================================As I had mentioned earlier, I was the “odd man out” in our group, with Clif and Stacy hunting together with PH Kenny. 

Mr. Cool...Kenny

My firsthand observations are thus limited to my experiences, and not theirs.  However, in the midst of my personal drama, I’m happy to report that Stacy and Clif were shooting straight and having much success.  Stacy was first, coming in with a Gemsbok on Day 2.  Clif followed with a Zebra and Impala, and Stacy then followed with a Warthog, an Impala of his own, and a Blesbok.  Clif also then added a Gemsbok, and finished it off with a perfect shot that took down a Greater Kudu. 

If my memory is correct, I believe Clif consistently hit his mark, dropping the animals quickly, and making good use of the power of the .375.  Stacy wins the award for most difficult shots, including a freehand shot at a Warthog that suddenly darted in front of him 30-40 yards down the road.  His big finale was stalking a herd of Blesbok, and patiently waiting over 30 minutes for a trophy-worthy male to provide a good shot.  At 250-300 yards, he nailed it.

Watch out Plains Game...this guy doesn't miss.

It was nice having the focused attention of my PH throughout, but it would also have been fun and memorable to watch these guys stalk and take down their trophies, too.


Following my “Super Thursday”, the next couple of days were spent searching for Wildebeest and Warthog…unfortunately with no success.  In contrast to days one through three, however, not a single shot was fired.  On Friday, Innes got us mere seconds from an excellent shot at a Warthog (thanks to some excellent stalking), but luck was against us, and we returned empty handed.

My first PH - Innes. The man deserves an award for his patience in working with a newbie hunter.



On Saturday Jaco took over as my new PH, as Innes had a family commitment.  Both were excellent PH’s, but it was interesting to see the clear differences in style and approach.  While Innes was more quite and deliberate, Jaco was a bit quicker in both pace and his movements.  For example, where Innes would move very slowly and quietly when putting down the sticks, Jaco would place them quickly, then immediately pull up his binoculars for a better look at the target.  I had gotten used to Innes’ pace, and the shift to Jaco’s quicker pace took some getting used to.

At the end of the day, however, each gave me plenty of opportunities, and any missed shots or chances were due to the guy pulling the trigger, and not because of their efforts.

Anyhow, all day Saturday, and again Sunday morning, we scoured “Bitterpan” looking for a second chance at a male Wildebeest.  We managed to follow a couple of herds around, and Jaco had the sticks down at least 8-10 times, but in each instance, the Bull’s were not cooperating.  They were either behind trees or Wildebeest Cows, always refusing to come to the front as Jaco expected.  They are also not typically “runners”, but on this particular weekend they seemed to be uncharacteristically energetic, and whole herds seemed to be in training for the Wildebeest half-marathon. “We must be the unluckiest people in the world!” said Jaco at one point.  “I’ve never had so much fookin problem hunting Wildebeest in my life!”

While I was of course hoping ultimately for a successful hunt, it was somehow comforting to return empty handed on several occasions for reasons that didn’t involve poor execution by the triggerman.


On Sunday morning, after 1 ½ days without a Wildebeest (or a Warthog) in hand, Jaco suggested an alternative plan:  Forget about finding another Wildebeest, and also forego the Blesbuck.  Instead, go big…Greater Kudu.  The price would be similar, and Kudu aren’t quite as challenging to hunt.  Given that I only had Sunday afternoon and Monday remaining, that seemed like a good approach.  Jaco called Willem, and we agreed to do a Kudu hunt on his property that afternoon.

The Greater Kudu is a larger animal, especially valued for it’s beautiful horns.  The “trophy fee” for us was one price if the horns were under 50 inches, then significantly more as the horns got beyond 50”.  As the animals don’t usually stand still to allow for a tape measure to be applied to their horns, you must rely on your PH to be the arbiter in the field, and if he tells you it is less than 50”, it is less than 50” for trophy purposes.

One other new element for my Kudu hunt was the gun.  The 7mm was not enough gun, so Jaco suggested that I borrow Willem’s .308.  The 7mm could do the job with a well-placed shot, but seeing as how I had less than a perfect record on that front, a little extra knockdown power seemed prudent.  Possibly that is why Willem decided to forego the .308 and instead showed up with his .375 H&H.  He was quick to tell me that we would be using 225-grain bullets, so the kick would be much less than the 300 grain Clif was using in his .375.  “Adriaan shoots this gun all the time”, he informed me, politely suggesting that if a 12 year old could handle it, surely I could as well.  (Having seen the pictures documenting Adriaan’s hunting successes, however, I’m not sure it was fair to make that comparison.  Possibly Adriaan at 5 and Dave at 43 would be more accurate.)

I will go off on another tangent here:  For those not familiar with shooting rifles, the moment the gun is fired is somewhat of a sensory overload.  First, the explosion is LOUD, and the more powerful the gun – at least in my experience – the bigger the POP.  It is accompanied by a strong physical reaction as the gun “kicks” backwards.  (Thanks, physics.)  This momentarily impacts your vision/ site, at least in my case, and is also accompanied by a strong smell (Gunpowder? Is it still gunpowder?  Who knows.) as the bullet discharges.  All that to say…pulling the trigger is a bit of a shocking experience.  The expectation of the sound, kick, etc. can cause a shooter (me, for example) to anticipate the event, and twitch or move in such a way that your aim is impacted.  Ideally, the shooter just slowly pulls the trigger, and is truly surprised when the shot is actually fired.

Now, back to the .375 H&H.  I fired a couple of practice rounds, and while it was certainly a bigger gun that the 7mm, it seemed relatively manageable.  I felt that my aim was true, but I was hitting the target 1-2 inches to the left at 50-60 yards.  Did we need to adjust the scope, I wondered?  Willem didn’t seem too concerned, and said that he and I probably just look through the scope at slightly different angles.

So, off we went.  This was Willem’s land, and he seemed to particularly enjoy hunting Kudu, so he joined Jaco, Kleinboy, and I, and took the lead in the excursion.  We had been driving for no more than 15 minutes when they spotted three Kudu in the bush.  Two were young, but one appeared to be a perfect candidate – a mature male with horns less than 50”.  We followed him around for a bit, but he, like the Wildebeest before him, was not very cooperative.

After several “almost” opportunities, we stopped the truck, and Willem stood high on the truck to look into the bush.  I was sitting quietly on the back of the truck, when I happened to notice, 70 yards directly in front of us, just standing there – perfectly broadside, in the middle of the road – the Kudu.  I quickly tapped Willem and pointed, and he whispered “Yes!”.  “That is the one.  Shoot him.  Shoot him!”.

This is where, once again, my inexperience came into play.  The moment was exciting and intense.  My heart was racing.  A better shot I could not ask for.  I placed the gun on the shooting pad on the roof of the truck, and lined up the Kudu.  I think Willem was still talking, probably providing guidance and words of encouragement.  I was doing my best to calm down and get a good stable shot, and actually having some measure of success.  Or so I thought.

To this day, I feel as good about what I saw through that scope as I did the prior Thursday with the Gemsbok and Steenbuck.  What was different, beyond the actual gun I was using, I do not know.  But as soon as I shot, the Kudu jumped a bit and started slowly trotting away from us.  “Shoot him again…in the ass!” implored Willem.  I was not prepared for that, and it took a second for me to reload.  I did take another shot, but it went high, or right.  (Or hell, could have been left, or low.)  The Kudu turned into the brush and disappeared.

“F@&K !!”  “S@!*T!!” (Etc., etc.)  The list of expletives that I uttered and thought was endless.  Not again.  Please God…not another injured animal.


 We left the truck, Willem now with his .375, Jaco with his .375, and me back with my 7mm.  There was much more blood this time as compared to the Wildebeest, which was heartening.  Hopefully the shot wasn’t that bad.  10 minutes later, we had only worked ourselves 50-75 yards into the bush, and Willem had somehow vanished.  I was standing with Jaco and Kleinboy as they tried to discern the path of the injured Kudu.


The quiet was interrupted by a shot that came from our left, and appeared to be very close.   Then…silence.  Jaco, Kleinboy, and I looked at each other hopefully.  I waited for Willem’s voice to announce  “Got ‘em!”.  But…nothing. 5 minutes later, and finally Willem calls for Jaco to meet him at the truck.  Jaco disappears, and I am told to stand by the last known blood spot.  Down on one knee, I prayed that somehow this would have a good ending.  I looked up, and Kleinboy was gone.  It would be hard to feel more alone than I did at that point.  Did I just create another mess that these three were off trying to fix?

Finally, I heard Kleinboy.  “Dave.  Come.”  It may not have quite been like Dead Man Walking, but the suspense was agonizing.  Kleinboy said nothing as we worked through the brush, and as much as I wanted to ask the question, I was too scared of the answer.  We got to the road, and on the other side, back in the bush, were Jaco and Willem.  They were talking, but in a way that seemed decidedly casual, and not with the intense “tracking an injured animal” posture that I had become too familiar with.  I became hopeful, but still did not see the ultimate proof lying next to them.  Finally, Jaco stepped away from Willem and came towards me.

“Congratulations!  You’ve got your first Kudu!” 

“Oh, Thank God.” I said, barely forcing a smile.

“Congratulations, you did it!” said Willem.

“WE did it.” I corrected him.  I looked at him and said with all sincerity, “I will not be returning to your country to hunt until I learn to shoot straight.”

My shot had gone 8-9 inches left, hitting the Kudu in the stomach.  While it did not hit the heart or lungs, it undoubtedly created significant internal damage.  Willem had seen him on the road, slowly walking away.  He followed the Kudu for a while until it finally turned slightly towards him.  Willem saw blood coming out of the nose, and knew he had the right animal.  Willem then placed his shoot very close to mine, where it went through the stomach, and then into the heart and lungs.  I suspect the Kudu fell immediately.

Willem and I


The last day of the hunt started at a farm that was new to us, down near the Limpopo river.  Jaco and I walked a dried-up riverbed for much of the morning, searching for Warthogs that like to feast on the short, green grass there.  We only saw two Warthogs of any quality, and they ran off before I had any chance of a shot.

Jaco was determined to get me a Warthog, however, and so immediately after lunch (no nap on this day), we were back to “Bitterpan”.  (Cursed Bitterpan.)  We found a good spot around 80 yards from a water hole/trough, and Jaco built a makeshift blind downwind where we could get a good view of the big, muddy puddle at the very front of the trough.  There were an assortment of fences winding around the area, but from our spot I was able to get a clean view of the puddle without any obstruction.

It was a bit warm, and we were both pretty tired.  I can’t speak for him, but I certainly dozed off more than once, in between games of iPhone Cribbage and Connect Four.  Finally, after around 90 minutes, Jaco whispered that a large Warthog was at the trough.  I grabbed my gun and looked through the site, focusing directly on the muddy puddle.


“Where is he?  I can’t see anything?”

“In the back.  He is drinking from the trough.”

Oh shit.  I didn’t realize there was water in the trough!  I thought all of the water was in the muddy puddle.  The trough was only 6 feet further away from us than the puddle, but…there was a fence with 3-inch wide metal slats 5-6 inches apart, between us.

The warthog’s hind legs were still on the ground, while his front legs laid over the front edge of the trough as he drank. The metal slat appeared, to me, to be directly obstructing the front shoulder.  The warthog’s position, combined with the presence of the slat, made it difficult for me to get a good overall visual of his body, and thus the target.  This made me a little nervous, as I was concerned about shooting too high and just hitting flesh and fat.  (See prior 6,150 words if you don’t understand the basis for my concern.)  Jaco, looking through his binoculars and applying exponentially more experience to his perspective, assured me that the shoulder was indeed visible above the slat.

The trick was too hit above the slat, but not too far above it.  An experienced hunter would likely not have even noticed the slat.  After all, it wasn’t really in the way.  For a neophyte with more than a few “near hits” on their scorecard, however, the slat was a big friggin’ distraction.

I lined up the Warthog, looking just over the slat, and slowly pulled the trigger.


And he was off to the races.

The shot was about 1 ½ inches low.

Lucky for that Warthog there was a fence in the way...

There is probably still a mark on that damned metal slat to prove it.  Had the slat not been there, I like to think that there would be a warthog trophy pic following this paragraph.  But, the slat may have just as likely saved Jaco and I from tracking an injured (and pissed off) warthog on my final afternoon.

I felt bad, but I think I felt worse for Jaco.  With the exception of the Kudu hunt that Willem had led, he had spent 3 days working his ass off to find good opportunities for me, and not a wildebeest nor warthog to show for it.

Jaco and I

Coming soon…Part III (Conclusion)

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