After meeting client Dan on a bison hunt in South Dakota, we hit it off and began talking about one of Dan’s dream hunts – a plains game safari in South Africa. After working out the details and bringing Dan’s good friend Dave into the discussions, I put together a trip for us to go to South Africa and hunt with a great PH I work with. Dan and Dave wanted to hunt together, so they booked a 2 hunters to 1 PH 7-day safari, and I booked a solo 7-day safari. Excitement was high as time ticked away towards June 2023.
June 13 and 14, 2023
June came around, and we were finally headed to the Eastern Cape of South Africa on safari. As a side note, I tore my meniscus in February and had a repair surgery in late March. Physical therapy and recovery was going well by early June, but it’s a 6-month process for a full recovery. After discussions with my doctor, he thought I could go on the trip. Unfortunately, a week before departure, I slipped on the kitchen floor on water from my dog’s slobber at their water bowl and highly suspected I re-tore my meniscus. I discussed this with the PH, and we decided I could still come, and they would do all they could to help me complete my hunt.
I drove to Newark to catch my direct flight on United to Johannesburg. I Met Dan and Dave at the gate, and our flight left at 8:45 PM. Over 8,000 miles and 15 hours later, we landed in Johannesburg at about 5:45 PM, just as it got dark. Our PH, Stuart, had recommended a place to stay. The bed and breakfast host promptly picked us up at the airport after we cleared immigration and got our bags. It was very uneventful getting through the airport. We drove about 10 minutes to a lovely bed and breakfast in Kempton Park, arriving at about 7 PM. The hosts brought us a wonderful dinner. We had lasagna, creamed spinach, a pumpkin squash dish, salad, dinner rolls, and a South African dessert similar to bread pudding called malva pudding. It was excellent. We sat around for a little bit chatting, excited to be on the ground in South Africa, and then went to bed at about 9 PM.
June 15, 2023
We got up at 3:15 AM, packed up, and headed to the airport. We got checked in with no problems and waited for our plane, which departed at 6 AM for Port Elizabeth. We landed at about 7:30 AM, and Ethan, my PH, picked us up. We loaded up in the diesel Ford pickup truck and drove the 3 1/2 hours to camp. On the way there, we went by Addo Elephant Park and proceeded through Fort Beaufort. It was interesting to see all of the citrus farms on the southside of Fort Beaufort. Once we went through the mountain pass, the terrain changed and switched from citrus farms to cattle country. It was much dryer and looked like parts of Wyoming.
We proceeded through a small old farm town called Cathcart. We drove about 10 km out of town and met the outfitter, Stuart, on the dirt road leading to the ranch where we were staying. It rained heavily on the drive from Port Elizabeth to camp, so our views weren’t as pretty as they usually would’ve been. We did see some zebras, black wildebeest, springbok, and a few baboons on the drive to camp.
The camp we went to and stayed for four nights was very nice, and we quickly got settled in. My room had a double bed and was very comfortable.
The main lodge was also well-appointed, with many mounts and a well-stocked bar.
We met the owner and his staff and then had spaghetti with kudu meat sauce for lunch. After lunch, we loaded up in the truck and went to the shooting range to determine which rifles we would use. We saw a big herd of impala while driving to the rifle range. While at the range, we saw three sable, all in the upper 30s range, and it was cool to see some game up close. Dan chose a suppressed .270, I picked a suppressed 7 mm Rem Mag, and Dave chose a suppressed .308. After some practice on the bench and a lesson on shooting off sticks, we were dialed in and ready for tomorrow.
When we finished sighting in, we went on a drive and drove right by the sable and also saw some springbok. We drove to another section of the ranch so Stuart could take us up to the top of the hill to get a good view of everything. We could see cattle, mountain reedbuck, kudu, zebra, and several other critters from the vista. We rode back to camp, had a few pre-dinner drinks and hors d’oeuvres, and chatted with our PH’s and the camp staff.
Dinner was great. It was grilled beef steak, marinated chicken wings on a kebab, lamb chops, corn on the cob, salad, potato casserole, and a delicious South African dessert with plums.
My PH, Ethan, and I will hunt a property about a 50-minute drive from here. It has an alfalfa pivot that reportedly has good numbers of nyala and kudu, so we’re hoping to get an opportunity at those two species tomorrow. The weather is also supposed to clear and be a little bit better, so we hope it helps with the game movement.
June 16, 2023
The first day of the hunt! I was up at 5:30 AM, got ready, and walked over for breakfast at 6 AM. I met Dan and Dave in the lodge, and we had a nice breakfast with scrambled eggs, sausages, toast, and fruit.
Ethan, myself, our tracker, Koisaki, and our tracker from the farm, Boisano, all loaded up at 6:30 AM. We had a 50-minute drive to the property that we were planning to hunt for the day, so we drove out to the tar road and up the highway towards Queenstown, then left on a dirt road to the property, which has a large river running through it, and several crop pivots with alfalfa fields.
We arrived at about 730 AM. The sun was starting to hit the mountains, and we glassed one of the main alfalfa pivots, hoping to find some kudu or nyala. We saw lots of guinea fowl and ostriches in the first field we checked and several fallow deer. We drove to another alfalfa crop pivot and saw some good warthogs and a young male zebra. We went back to the first field to glass and saw some kudu. We eventually hiked partway up the hill and saw two shooter kudu, one of which we ended up stalking, and I had it in the scope, walking away from us at between 350 and 400 yards. I didn’t feel good about the shot with it walking away. We also saw some red hartebeest and several female kudu. Boisano tried to push the kudu to us, but we never saw them again. We saw four nyala bulls below us, one of which was excellent, but they took off before we could stalk them.
We had seen some bedded impala in one of the other pivots, so we drove over there and hiked to the field, and there were five rams. According to Ethan and the crew, one of them was very good, and we got to within 180 yards. They stood up just as I was getting set up on the sticks. I probably could have shot if I wanted to shoot through the brush, but I never touched it off, and all five ran out of the field. The four smallest ones came back chasing the females, but the big guy just disappeared. So, we walked out of there a little bit discouraged, but that’s hunting.
We drove over to the other side of the river to look for nyala. Nyala tend to be late risers, often coming out to feed at 10 AM or later when the sun warms things up. We went into one field and saw a small bull with two females only 15 feet from the road. We then drove up to a different area and split up – me staying with Ethan and the tracker, Boisano, going another way to glass more country. Shortly after that, Boisano called us and said he had seen two nyala bulls, one of which was a very mature bull. By the time we got over there, they were in the bush, so we walked to the edge of the field and jumped two fallow deer and one nyala bull and did a little push for the nyala and ended up seeing three of them, but too far to shoot them running in the bush.
We returned to where we parked the truck and ate lunch in the shade as it was noon, and then we drove to the original field where we saw the zebra and the two warthogs in the morning, walked in there, and sat for about a half hour. We saw the zebra come back out. We saw two warthogs, guinea fowl, three cranes, and then spotted a male duiker, so Ethan and I walked straight across the field with the pivot between us and the duiker, but the zebra was curious about us and ended up running behind us and spooking the duiker when we were 200 yards from it.
We decided to go back to the other side of the river and saw a small nyala bull, four female nyala, and probably ten warthogs on the way there. We returned to the field where Boisano saw the two nyala bulls in the morning. We walked down the road and around the field on the backside and jumped a nyala cow with two calves. Then, as we wrapped around, we saw one of the younger bulls at about 70 yards. We figured the other older one was with him, so we backed out and headed back to the field to see if they came out.
Then Mike, the main ranch hand riding with us all day, told us he saw two mature nyala bulls, so we went over there. Long story short, we never found them again and walked along the field back to the truck. We got to the first pivot, and there were kudu cows, baboons, and impala there, but no shooters. We drove up to the central pivot where we started in the morning, and there was a big herd of impala there with a representative buck, but not a giant. We walked through the field to the pivot and saw a couple of ostriches, then glassed the hill where we hunted in the morning but spotted nothing. So, we drove out of the ranch, and on the way out, we saw several more animals in the field, but it was getting dark.
We drove the hour back to the lodge in the dark and arrived at about 6:30 PM. Dan and Dave had a great day with Stuart and saw animals all day but never had it come together, although Dan did miss a common springbok. Dinner was good, with rice, vegetables, and rolled pork with apple crisp for dessert.
We were all tired from the long day, so we returned to our rooms around 8:15 PM to prepare for another day. All told, my phone said we walked 7.7 miles today, and my knee is pretty sore, and I’m walking pretty slowly, but Ethan is an excellent sport about putting up with me being slow (remember, I had surgery in March and re-tore my meniscus a week before this trip). Hopefully, it won’t be too rough tomorrow on my knee. From now on, I have to use the hiking sticks and get one of the trackers to carry my rifle – very humbling but necessary with my knee. We will return to the same farm and hopefully find a good kudu and nyala.
We saw lots of different species today. I’ll probably miss a few, but we saw a mongoose, zebra, duiker, ostrich, nyala, kudu, red hartebeest, warthogs, a wildcat, impala, guinea fowl, cranes, baboons, and several bright colored songbirds. There was a lot of bird life, and we saw many black and white birds they called crows, a fish eagle, and several birds that looked like ibises. We also saw hyrax, which are like big woodchucks. It was an exciting and fun day. I’m still having difficulty adjusting to the driver being on the right side of the vehicle and the passenger on the left. I keep trying to get in on the wrong side! The weather was excellent, around 32 overnight and warming to about 60 during the day with a decent breeze and clear skies.
June 17, 2023
I woke up at 4:45 AM and could tell the wind was blowing. I fell asleep, got up at 5:30 AM, and got ready. We had an excellent breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast, and fruit and headed out at 6:30 AM. Just Ethan, Koisaki, and I today. We arrived at the farm at 7:30 AM and proceeded to the big pivot. There were some red hartebeest – all females – and some impala, one being a decent buck. Still, we were after kudu, so we hiked around the pivot and slowly made our way up the mountain. Koisaki carried my rifle, and I used the hiking sticks, which helped as my knee was still recovering from surgery.
We saw two ostriches, and as we hiked up, we saw several groups of kudu cows. As we proceeded, we saw a few more groups of kudu but no mature bulls. We glassed till about 9 AM and started moving around the mountain more. We jumped a female gemsbok that had a broken horn.
We could see some red hartebeest, some kudu below us, and some impala in the far pivot. We hiked a bit more and saw that the group of hartebeest had a good male in it. We ranged it at 315 yards, and Ethan said it was a good one and did I want to shoot if we got to 200 yards. I said sure, so we hiked closer and got to 226 yards.
We set up the sticks, and I waited between wind gusts (very windy today – probably 20 mph with some stronger gusts). The wind let up for a bit, and I shot. I could hear the bullet hit. Ethan said I missed, and I said bullcrap, and then I saw him grinning. The red hartebeest had dropped. We wandered down, and I was delighted to get my hands on him. I’m guessing they weigh 350 pounds or so. We got him set up and took several pictures.
Then I carried all the gear, guns, and sticks down to the pivot, and the guys gutted and cut it in half and came down behind me. We all met at the truck at the same time, drove around, went up the path they had dropped the carcass off on, and loaded up. I shot him at about 10 AM with the 7 mm Rem Mag. We will have to see where I hit him as we couldn’t find the hole, but he was bleeding out the nose, so we think it’s lungs.
We headed out and checked out the pivot with yesterday’s impala, but there was no good impala there. We drove around to the other side. Koisaki saw a nyala bull, and Ethan and I made a stalk on it but did not find it. We walked up the ridge and down to where we ate lunch yesterday and hiked to the end of the path. I saw one of those beautiful cranes in the field and jumped two warthogs. Then we came back. Koisaki met us with the truck and had a nice lunch.
After lunch, we drove around to the other side and dropped Koisaki off on the first pivot, and we went to the second pivot. We walked around the right side of the field. When we first arrived, a troop of baboons was in the field with several impala, guinea fowl, and ibises. We got set up next to a great big rock koppe and eventually decided to climb up on top of the rocks because it would make a great shooting platform. We saw four warthogs come out. I also watched a couple of impala make their way out, and then at about 3:30 PM, we had a big nyala bull come out about 400 yards to our left.
We decided to bail off the koppe and walked through the bush to the path that led to the other pivot and then walked towards the pivot that the nyala was on. We had a clear shot at about 270 yards. Still, Ethan said he could get me closer, so we proceeded further and then walked through a low area and popped up on a dike about 60 yards from the nyala, which was feeding. I got the sticks set up and shot him at 60 yards. He ran towards us about 5 yards, and just to be safe, I put another round in him, and he went down. I was thrilled as this was one of the main animals I hoped to harvest on the trip.
Ethan and I walked over to him. He was a beautiful old, old, old proper nyala. His teeth were worn down to the gumline, and we figured he was at least 15 years old and maybe had another year of life left. And that’s why he probably ate the alfalfa because he couldn’t eat much else. He even had all the hair worn off his chest on his right side. His tips were well worn, and he was just a beautiful mature and magnificent nyala, just the kind you would want to harvest. Koisaki came by with the truck, and we got several excellent pictures and then loaded him up. I shot him around 4 PM.
We decided to drive up to the other pivot, got out, snuck up there, and saw two good impala rams about 330 yards to our left. We made a stalk, proceeded to sneak behind some brush, and got within 100 yards. I got set up on the sticks and had to wait for the ram to turn, and when he finally did turn, the other impala was behind him, so I had to wait. Finally, he turned broadside, and I shot, realizing I had pulled it and missed. The impala ran about 20 yards closer, and I quickly got on him and made a second shot, which put him down. It was quite an exciting hour with a nice nyala and impala both down.
We walked up to the impala and propped it up for some pictures, and then Koisaki came with the truck, and we loaded him up. He was a mature impala, a very nice representative example. I was very impressed with how beautiful the skin is.
We decided to make a quick play and try for a warthog, so we drove to the pivot where we originally saw the big warthogs. When we got there, we saw lots of guinea fowl and one warthog with small tusks that we made a stalk on but realized he was too small. So, we were done for the day, loaded up, and drove out.
When we got to the last pivot on the right, there was a herd of kudu in it, so we bailed out and glassed and saw one proper bull in the group. It was getting dark, and we got set up as we were almost out of time. Ethan, my PH, put the gun on the sticks and aimed the scope right at the target kudu. We ranged him at 330 yards, and I was comfortable with the shot. I pulled the trigger, and the gun went click!
I had never chambered a round, as I had assumed that Ethan did, which was a bad assumption on my part. I chambered a round quickly, but by that time, the kudu had started walking away from us, and it was getting super dark, and I could not get another shot. I endured a pretty good teasing by the guys, which I deserved!
We drove back to camp and met everybody. Dave and Dan had both shot mature impala, which was great.
We had several shots of ginger brandy and drinks to celebrate a great day and then a dinner of impala pie, mashed potatoes, carrots, peas, and vanilla ice cream with caramel for dessert. We socialized, told lies and stories, and had an enjoyable evening. Overall, it was a great day. We’re hoping for another great day tomorrow. The weather was very windy today. Cool but not cold in the morning, warming up to around 70° in the afternoon with lots of sun and wind. We walked 7.6 miles today. A great day overall with 3 impala, a nyala, and a red hartebeest. Part 2 and Part 3 coming soon so make sure to check back.