Family Affair and the Blaser Professional S

Poss Pull quotes:

  1. As with all good hunts, we started with the most challenging species—Black Death!
  2. All the time hunting these jackrabbit-quick beauties, and a happenstance encounter yields the best in trophies.
  3. the rifle change personalized it—it went from long-range stalker to medium-weight thumper, just like that.
  4. …a big-game killer with a gentle enough disposition for the shooter.

 South Africa:  2016

                     Family Affair and the Blaser Professional S                                             

                                                             By John Mattera

Hunting is an amazing right of passage—testing yourself against the best nature has to offer; sometimes victorious, sometimes humbled, but always in awe of the pursuit; witnessing the power that hunting possesses over a man’s soul. Add the amazing, mythical continent called Africa to the story, and it may soon become the adventure of a lifetime. 

I often misquote Ralph Waldo Emerson:  My version goes: “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.”

“For RWE was not a hunter!”

When the journey is shared with friends and family, its impact on your life can be astounding. In this case, I was privileged to accompany two buddies of mine on just such an adventure, a wonderful journey into the African veld.  I went with two brothers, Prashant and Ragu Reddy, hunters of the first order.  Prashant hails from Allen, Texas, and Ragu from Fort Worth.  Added to the adventure was their father patriarch of the Reddy clan, and Prashant’s eleven-year-old son, Samir.

So, for good company I had three-generations of Reddys to hunt with.

They had ventured to South Africa, sans rifles, with plans to shoot the new Blaser Professional S in .375 H&H, with a .308 conversion barrel assembly for tackling plains game.

Our destination was the Botsalano Game Reserve in the North West Province, a 15,000-acre wildlife sanctuary situated on the border of Botswana.

As with most of my South African adventures, this one began and ended at the wonderful Ndlovu Lodge in Pretoria East.

After a long jet flight, the welcome mat at Ndlovu is always a happy sight—my home-away-from-home on the African continent.  Tucked high on a hillside and nestled into the lush bushveld,  Ndlovu is the perfect place for my transition from the bustle of everyday life to safari.

The next day, it was off to Botsalano.

The weather was anything but cooperative, as the cold wind blew and the rain fell, soon turning into golf ball-sized hail.  The driving was treacherous, but, just outside of Zeerust, we came upon a little hidden oasis in our cold desert of despair.  Talley’s Inn was tucked away off the road and not easy to find.  However, the company was good, the steaks were grand, and the beer cold. So we weathered the storm in comfort and good surroundings.

The next day we were on the road again, off to Botsalano.  Our host Somerby Safaris specializes in finding out-of-the-way, secluded hunting utopias – some places that have not seen a hunter’s footprint in years, where the game roams unmolested and disinterested in our sudden presence into their domain.

The reserve hosts some magnificent animals, and is managed well. When the numbers of animal reach a point where they cannot be sustained by the land, a quota is issued to bring certain species down to manageable levels—hence our visit.

The reserve has amazing wildlife – over 200 bird species can be found in the acacia and karee woodlands and in the extensive grasslands.

It sports some wonderful trophy-class game, with some of the biggest waterbuck and black wildebeests found anywhere; impressive springbok and impala as well, and we did not have to travel far to find some nice sable and our ultimate goal—buffalo.

 

Botsalano is also one of the most prolific white rhino breeding grounds in the North West Province.  The terrain, veld, and year-round water are conducive to breeding.  There is also one of the oldest volcanic craters in the world, extending through the park into Botswana itself.

Poaching activities are kept in check with a constantly vigilant, very alert anti-poaching staff.

The African winter nights we experienced were pretty cold, even after the skies cleared.

With the disappearance of cloud cover overhead, the nights and morning remained chilly, but the days opened up when the sun came out with spectacular South African sunshine

For our professional hunters, we were left in the capable hands of Janneman Cornelius and Pieter Daniel van den Berg, known as P.D. for short.

Two more skilled PHs the Reddy’s could not hope for.  The combination of their personalities was electric – a world of hunting, tracking, and game knowledge between them, coupled with enough youthful exuberance to create an almost college-like fraternity atmosphere.

As with all good hunts, we started with the most challenging species—Black Death!

The chance to join the Reddy brothers on their buffalo quest was the highlight of my trip.  I love to hunt buff!

Our first day proved long and unproductive, save for the miles under our boots, but it was good to get the muscles working and the blood flowing again, especially after that long, over-the-ocean flight and a couple of days of inactivity.

We had cut some sign and followed the trail, but the buffs at the other end were just not what we were looking for.  A slow shake of Janneman’s head and a confirmation wink and smile from P.D., and we knew we were off again looking for old bulls.

The second day started more promising, as the chilly North West morning kept everything except us pretty much standing still.  We cut tracks early. It was Prashant’s turn up first as we closed into a small herd with a couple of rangy old bulls taking in the first rays of early morning sun.  Janneman pointed out one charming old character, and Prashant climbed up on the sticks, pulling the Blaser in tight to his shoulder.

Picking out the sweet spot through the Meopta dangerous-game scope, he pressed the trigger to the rear, closing the shot.  The buff bucked, jumped, and ran.

The shot was good!  He didn’t go far, the rest of the herd jostled off, and a couple of the other bulls slowed down to see what was happening.  It was obvious that this bunch of old guys weren’t hunted much – they didn’t get our wind and they proved to be more curious than fearful.

It was tempting for the professionals to give Ragu a shot at another of the old warriors, but discretion proved to be the order of the day—better get one into the books before we made too much trouble for ourselves, as it was the Reddy’s first dangerous-game hunt.

In short order, the bellow of acceptance came from the first bull, and half the day was done even though it wasn’t yet 08:30.

Quick on the heels of the curious old bulls, now it was Ragu’s turn with the powerful little Blaser. (How I have grown to really like that rifle!).

Within the hour, he was also on the shooting sticks, and again hunter, rifle and optic worked effectively, sending a SWIFT A-frame into the big buff’s shoulder.  Not one to let an opportunity pass him by, Ragu worked the Blaser bolt and sent the second round from the magazine – the new SWIFT break-away .375 – into the buff’s hip as he tried to make like a ninja and disappear into the high veld.

The old boy wasn’t going far, and Ragu and P.D. were on his tail.

P.D. carried the new Winchester-controlled feed model 70 in .375 H&H and I was right on his six.  Alas, my only weapon was a Nikon camera, but I had faith in the guys around me if things grew troublesome.

Another SWIFT breakaway into the major plumbing, and the old bull was down for the count!

What a great morning! Two buff in the salt shed, and they had blooded my Blaser Professional S in a most spectacular fashion.

We parted ways after lunch, and I took off on a long walk with Drom Beukes, Somerby’s commander-in-chief, with nothing particular on the game menu, just looking around to get the lie of the land.

It was with great pains that the Reddy brothers loaned me back my own rifle!

I could see the troubled look in their faces, but I promised them it would not be for long, and it wasn’t.

We soon came upon a magnificent springbok, and the Blaser, now with its .308 configuration, sent him to the ground in a most spectacular fashion.

As I approached the little monster, it became apparent that he was my personal best springbok.  Ironic, isn’t it? All the time hunting these jackrabbit-quick beauties, and a happenstance encounter yields the best in trophies.

As promised, I returned the Blaser just in time to accompany young Samir on his first hunt.  An amazing performance for the eleven-year old, as he dropped the bolt on a nice blesbok from 150 yards with the .308 barrel on the Professional S.  As a right of passage for the first animal Samir had taken, Janneman performed the Blooding Rite, a ritual we attribute to Saint Hubertus, the patron saint of hunters.

Born 638 AD, Hubertus was a prince in the house of Aquitaine, France. He was a passionate hunter who lost his wife and son.  Devastated, Hubertus gave up his land and titles and turned to the hunt.  He later became a priest and then a bishop, and performed several miracles, thus cementing his place in sainthood, and passing on a tradition honored throughout the world.

I have seen young hunters balk, rebel, and some even run away, but eleven-year-old Samir accepted the rite of passage, as blood was traced upon his face, and he wore his mask of validation proudly the whole day.

The next morning we went off again – the Reddy’s were on the trail of both sable and waterbuck.  Given the size, they opted to convert the rifle back to its .375 H&H configuration.  After a few turns of the captured Allen Head bolts, I popped out the magazine and inserted the corresponding shell holder, the same for the bolt face, and the rifle change personalized it—it went from long-range stalker to medium-weight thumper, just like that.

Snap on the Meopta dangerous-game scope once again, held fast by the true-to-zero Blaser mounts, and they were in business—a big-game killer with a gentle enough disposition for the shooter.

We spied a small herd of sable Hippotragus niger, and it was off on a long stalk after what I believe to be the most majestic of all the antelope family.

Again, Prashant was first up on a magnificent sable that Janneman led him to – on the sticks, and the Blaser barked.

The shot was a bit high, so we gave him a bit of time to get stiff and the track was on, and on, and on…

There was no blood trail, as he was hit in the soft muscle of his neck. What blood did seep out was quickly absorbed into his black coat.  It is here that the trackers and the professional hunters from Somerby shine.  Our lead tracker was the jack-of-all-trades, Norman Motlaung.

A companion of many hunts past, a man of good company and humor, and skinner and tracker par excellence, he stayed on the trail for the better part of the day, and let me tell you that the grassy patches between the soil proved to create a challenging environment for following game.

Just before darkness began to descend, Norman led us within striking distance of the wounded animal, and Prashant was able to send him to the ground with a clean shot. The timing could not have been better, as we were mile-worn and footsore.

My GPS watch said we covered almost eleven miles.  It was time for a well-deserved sundowner. Our evening camp for the hunt was the Malena Lodge, not far from Botsalano where the accommodations were first class and the food was delightful.

Day 5 started in much the same manner, cold and clear, but this time Norman stumbled across a waterbuck of exceptional quality straight away, and P.D. worked Ragu in for a shot.

The SWIFT A-frame sent the old boy to the deck, and soon we were back on the trail of sable.

Much to my dismay and the professional’s joy, the next sable – a splendid animal – gave up the ghost without much fanfare or an extended walk.  (I like the hikes through the veld, especially when my only function is to simply take pictures!)

Some great black wildebeest and another outstanding waterbuck were taken before our visit to the North West came to a close, and just in time, as the weather took a turn for the worse as the rain clouds once again moved in.

I guess Saint Hubertus was looking out for us, as I, for one, have a natural aversion to being cold and wet.  I don’t know if the blood rite is a true tribute to a 1500-year-old hunter turned saint, or just a custom passed down from one hunter to another over the years, but who am I to tempt fate?

1252:  Hounds enjoying some downtime before the hunt

 

 

6966: Randy Wesraadt and Freddi Scheepers flank the author alongside a very big leopard tipping the scale at 186 pounds.

6940:  A very happy PH “Drom” Beukes after a close encounter with a huge tom leopard

6962:  Helgard “Drom” Beukes and John Mattera with a large tom leopard taken in the Kalahari.

Tracks 201:  Leopard tracks in the soft sand, as fresh as they come, sharp edges and undisturbed – this cat was not far ahead, as we soon found out.

 

 

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