AM I DREAMING ?
I have just boarded my flight on South African Airlines in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. In another thirty hours I will be back home in Alberta, Canada. I cannot believe that my lifelong dream of seeing and hunting a part of Africa is now coming to an end.
After many years of just talking about hunting in Africa, finally it became a reality. While at the 2009 SCI convention in Reno I met Andrew Pringle and Chris Broster of Crusader Safaris. After talking to these guys it did not take long to know that this was the hunt I was looking for. First, they specialized in the spiral-horned animals and second, and the most important to my style of hunting, was it was all free range where they had access to over 900,000 acres.
A mere two months after the convention I was on my way to Johannesburg. After a phenomenal three-day sight-seeing tour of Kruger National Park I continued on to Durban. This city is situated on the beautiful coastline of the Indian Ocean. I would start my adventure in the Natal region where we would focus on bushbuck, nyala, and my number one priority, the southern greater kudu.
There would be another two hunters in camp with me for the first hunt of the season, Jim from New Jersey and Joe from Louisiana. The country was stunning: steep hills and quite heavily vegetated due to the time of year. From a high vantage point I could see the countryside was dotted with sugar cane fields and orange orchards. We hunted mornings and evenings and, just like the animals, we would seek out the coolness of the shade during the middle of the day. For us, it was our comfortable camp situated in the riverbottom.
Throughout the next week we passed on quite a few nice animals and also saw some that were what we were looking for, but for some reason or another we were unable to connect. Andrew was being quite picky and had me hold off on some nice animals! I guess that is a good thing when you are trophy hunting.
My luck took a turn for the better early one morning. We had just left camp after a light breakfast and a stout cup of coffee. It was a female bushbuck we saw first, moving quickly through an opening. On her tail was a ram that, after one quick look, Andrew told me to take! I had no time to really get excited, as the ram would soon disappear into the thick bush. A quick, offhand shot at sixty yards, and I had successfully taken my first African animal.
I did not know much about bushbuck before I came on this hunt but in a short few days I developed a strong respect for them. The country they live in and their uncanny ability to disappear into thin air makes them a very worthy quarry.
We just had enough time to take some nice field photos before the sky opened up, soaking us with a heavy downpour. A nice change from the hot days that we had been having. I had to pinch myself. Is this really happening? Am I really hunting in Africa?
We were now going into the last day of our hunt at this camp and then the next day we would be driving to another camp in the Eastern Cape. Joe and Jim had taken bushbuck, nyala, and kudu by this time. Jim’s kudu was a huge bull measuring close to 60”! I was struggling, and not because of lack of animals or trying – it was just my turn to really earn my next animal.
The plot thickened when, only two hours into the morning hunt, I had my chance at a nice kudu bull. We came into a clearing and noticed a lone bull watching us from about two hundred yards away. I had to move ten yards to get a rest on a tree. In my scope I clearly remember seeing the bull whirling for the safety of the bush fractions of a second before the trigger broke. A clean miss! There went the chance I had been waiting for. At this point, with only an afternoon left to hunt at this camp I accepted the fact that if I was going to have another opportunity at a kudu it would have to be at the next camp in the Eastern Cape.
I think hunters as a whole tend to analyze the hunt too much. I am definitely guilty of this! Just when I thought I had my last chance, the table turned. It was still early in the afternoon when the back half of a bull kudu materialized from the bush in front of our eyes. I could not see the bull’s head from my position and had to rely on Andrew to give me the green light. It was music to my ears to hear Andrew say, “shoot!” At the shot the bull disappeared and soon the bush was silent. We immediately put Andrew’s Jack Russell terrier on the trail and in no time he was barking excitedly. The old bull had expired within sixty yards.
It seemed as if time stood still. After many hours of looking, stalks that did not work out, and even passing on bulls that were larger, this bull was perfect. Huge-bodied with heavy, coal- black horns that carried their mass right out to the tips. The best part was that after spending much time pursuing him, I had developed an appreciation for an animal whose habits and abilities were unknown to me prior to the hunt. That part of the experience you cannot savor when you tag out on the first day!
The next day we were on the road to the Eastern Cape. I was on cloud nine, and if my hunt was over at this point I would have been more than satisfied. Fortunately for me we were just getting ready for the second half!
We arrived at the newly built lodge located on Andrew’s family’s land in the Baviaan River Conservancy. Here Andrew and Chris made Jim, Joe and myself feel right at home with comfortable beds, hot showers, and awesome, home-cooked meals.
Andrew and Chris set me up with Schalk who guides for Crusader Safaris full time. This guy was a riot and definitely knew how to give the critters a ride home in the bed of a Toyota, if you know what I mean.
Within a couple of days Schalk and I were in the thick of things. We were in the middle of about twenty gemsbok that had just seen us. There were animals going everywhere! Gemsboks are a species where both the males and females have similar sized horns. With everything happening in a hurry, to a rookie like me seeing live gemsbok for the first time, almost every animal looked like a candidate. Thanks to Schalk’s experience he got me focused on two bulls emerging rapidly from the brush one hundred yards in front of us. I locked the crosshairs on the biggest bull and when he came to a stop, I squeezed the trigger. The bull was hit perfect and expired quickly. After celebrating our success we took some field photos that would preserve the moment for a lifetime.
To me the gemsbok have one of the most stunning capes of the African animals. The contrasting black and white facial markings make them a beautiful animal regardless of the size of their horns.
As the trip wound down, I topped it off by taking a dandy Eastern Cape kudu. These bulls are usually slightly smaller in body and horn size compared with their relatives in the Natal region. This animal as well has a gorgeous cape, a rich, chocolate brown.
As quick as the hunt transpired, it was now coming to an end. Many people had told me to wait until I was older to hunt Africa, do the hard and physically demanding hunts while you are young. Being in my early thirties I am no stranger to tough mountain hunting but I am glad I did not wait until I was older to experience a small piece of what Africa has to offer. None of us know how much time we will get to fulfil our worldly dreams!
I would like to thank Andrew Pringle, his girlfriend Julie, and Chris and Melinda Broster of Crusader Safaris for a trip of a lifetime and making my dreams of hunting in Africa become a reality. I think there is a pretty good chance they will have to put up with this Canadian in their camp for another hunt sometime in the near future!
André is 32 years old and the owner of Willow Creek Outfitters in Alberta Canada. He has been active in the guiding industry for 15 years throughout western Canada, New Zealand and a few states in the USA. His trip to Africa was his first guided hunt and he was completely impressed by the professionalism of his outfitter, Crusader Safaris, which he ranks amongst the best he has ever worked with.