On safari with… Pieter Potgieter

Tell us about your family, how they originally got to Africa.

We have been in South Africa for many generations, mainly as farmers. Originally our ancestors came from Holland. I was born 26 June, 1971 in Delmas, Mpumalanga

How did you get into hunting – what was it that influenced you?

Living on a farm, I started hunting at a very young age, about six years old. Like most farm boys it started with a kettie (slingshot) and then a pellet gun. My first four-legged creature was a common duiker with a .22 rifle. My granddad was a big hunter in the old days, and he had a huge influence on my love for hunting. I believe I was born with that gene. As a young boy I took the job upon my shoulders to make sure my family always had enough biltong and game meat, a job I was very happy to fulfill. During hunting season it gave me tremendous joy to wake up early in the morning, have a cup of coffee off the woodstove and head out with a rifle over my shoulder to see what the bush would offer me. Problem was there were no two-way radios or cell phones, so wherever you ended up shooting something, you had to walk back to the Willys jeep or back to the homestead, which ever was closest.

With whom did you train, apprentice and learn from? 

My dad and granddad were my biggest mentors in learning how to hunt. To hunt professionally I jumped in on the deep end and had to swim or drown. I did my PH course at Tomak Professional Hunters School in Thabazimbi, and immediately after that started looking for my own clients. I have never worked for another outfit my entire life.

What was the most important thing you learned during those early years?

The amount of noise you make is directly linked to the amount of walking you are going to do. It was all about gun safety, shot placement, and you eat what you kill.

The early years of professional hunting – where were they?

After going to Tukkies (University of Pretoria) to get a B. Comm degree I took over the dairy farm from my parents. About five years later, my wife and I decided to buy our first game farm in the Dwaalboom area and go into hunting full time – definitely my best decision (excluding picking my life partner). I started with biltong hunting, but soon realized I would have to get some dollars into the mix if I wanted to make my bank manager happy, so I went to the US in 2003 to market, and came back with no clients. An older outfitter told me to hang in there for at least three years, and if I did it right I would start reaping the benefits. He was 100% correct and I have given the same advice to many want-to-be PHs and outfitters.

In 2009 I was fortunate to get my own hunting area in Mozambique that we hunted for several years.

Tell us about an embarrassing, fun, or interesting experience.

It was getting stuck in the Limpopo River crossing between SA and Mozambique. This happened several times, but I will elaborate on one specific incident.

We were heading back from Mozambique to SA after a successful leopard and buffalo hunt with John and Susan from the USA, and with my tracker in my Toyota Hilux truck with a trailer. When we got to the Limpopo River heading to Pafuri border post, I sent my tracker and a local guy to show me the way to cross the Limpopo River. Upon them entering the river, a church outreach group just crossed with their 4xwheel drive trucks and shouted that they would direct us, so I pulled my guys back… big mistake. The driver of the MAN truck directed me straight into a huge hole where I got properly stuck. The water went window-height through the vehicle and my tracker was sure he was going to drown. I had to crawl out of the window to call for help because the current were too strong to open the door. Luckily, the guy who had given me directions came to our rescue with the big MAN truck. Once we got to dry land it looked like in the movies – when we opened the doors everything – wallets, shoes, etc., came gushing out with the remaining water. True to a Toyota, the bakkie was fine and we made it back to our lodge in Musina, and except for the two-way radio that did not do well under water, there was no other damage.

Any specific client experience that stood out?

I booked a client by the name of Stan Sigg who became a very dear friend of mine. His dream, since he was 16 years old, was to hunt a kudu. When he told his dad, he had just laughed at him and said it would probably not happen. Stan was around 64 when the dream to come to Africa became a reality. We were walking down an overgrown two-track road when a beautiful kudu bull stepped into the road. I immediately had the sticks up and told Stan to take it. As if he were suddenly struck with blindness, he could not see the kudu. I actually stood behind him and moved the rifle and his head to aim in the right direction…Nothing. He could not see it.

I knew the bull would be gone any second, and my heart was jumping out of my chest. After what felt like hours, he said, “I can see it.” I almost yelled, “Shoot it!” His shot shattered the silence and Stan collapsed, holding out his rifle to me: “I am not in a position to handle this!” he said. After he regained control over his legs, we walked up to the spot to track the bull, and as we crossed over a dam wall, I could see the majestic horns sticking out above the winter grass. A 48-year-old dream became a reality as Stan put his hands on his dream animal with 57” curls.

Which countries/areas have you hunted since then?

I have hunted South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique, and Tanzania. Tanzania is our newest addition to our concessions with about 500 000 hectares bordering the well-known Selous Games reserve, a gorgeous unspoiled piece of Africa. There are no human inhabitants in the whole area, so animals are not used to humans there, and we need to have Masai warriors on guard to keep the animals from raiding our camp at night. That’s Africa!

Tell us some interesting thing that happened there.

We were all set up in a blind to hunt leopard, and little did the client know that his permit was about to expire due to a mistake made by the issuing authority. It was around midnight when this beautiful leopard returned to his own kill. Once the cat settled in and I could semi-control my breathing, I switched on the red light slowly, turning the rheostat up. I had already signaled the client to take the shot. Nothing happened. I then whispered, “SHOOT.”

“I can’t see it,” he replied. That’s impossible I thought, he is sitting in the open in the red glare. I started to sound like a sports commentator:

“He is looking right… He is sitting upright…. He is feeding.” It felt like hours and the client still couldn’t see him. What is wrong with him, is he blind, I thought.

“Look with your naked eyes,” I told him, and suddenly he replied, “I can see it!”

”Shoot!” The shot hit the spot and the cat did not move. That was the closest I ever came to having a heart attack. The hunter had bumped his scope during the night and had been staring into pitch-black darkness.

If you could return to any time or place in Africa, where would it be?

Definitely Tanzania

Which is your favorite trophy animal to hunt, and why?

It would be a toss-up between Cape buffalo and leopard. They can both be incredibly challenging hunts testing your hunting skills, and once wounded it takes the experience to a whole new level.

What is the best trophy animal one of your clients ever took?

That’s a difficult one. I think it might be a 47” buffalo I hunted in Tanzania recently with an American client. My son accompanied me on a hunt for a huge Cape eland with a crossbow that is ranked #3 in the world.

Tell us about a most memorable hunt.

If I had to pick one it would be for the beautiful 44” old Dagga Boy I shot myself in one of the parks open to Kruger National Park. We passed up on several bulls – I wanted something special, and once I saw THE one, the hunt was on. It took us several hours to get a 125-meter shot across a river without a scope with my CZ.458 Lott. What made it special was that my son PC was with me videoing the whole hunt.

Tell us about a disaster of a client and what you had to deal with.

This would definitely be “The week from hell” as it’s known in our company. We had two groups of Saudi Arabian clients (I can’t call them hunters) simultaneously in two lodges, three men in one lodge and seven in another. They had no respect for our staff including the PHs as well as the animals. I received a call from the PH in charge of the group of three complaining that they refused to listen to him, and that someone was going to get hurt. I drove through to them and offered politely to take them back to the airport, which made them rethink their offensive ways. The rest of the safari was somewhat better.

I, on the other hand, was stuck with the group of seven who could hardly understand English or hit anything they aimed at, and they were stealing our liquor and drinking it secretly since they are not allowed to consume alcohol under Islamic belief. And to top it off, they kicked my dog. I was very relieved to send them back. That was the last group of Saudis we have ever hunted with.

What personal challenges have you had?

I was hunting elephant in Mozambique with a bowhunter. The agreement was that if we saw a huge tusker and he could not get it with the bow, I would just hand him my rifle. We saw a 72 pounder, and as he was getting away the client handed his bow to me, took my rifle and I took the PH’s rifle. He went for a heart-lung shot which hit the spot. I put in an anchor shot to get the elephant to stop, which worked. As I was sprinting towards the elephant he turned and faced me less than 20 metres away. I was circling to put in a brain shot, and the rifle jammed. I could not get the shell to go in or extract it. I yelled at the client, “Shoot, Shoot!”

He fired, but missed the brain, but luckily the elephant turned which gave me the opportunity to get rid of the stuck shell and give the elephant a side brain shot.

Discussing what happened with the PH afterwards, his reply was, “Oh my rifle does it sometimes if you shoot a flat-nose solid.”

Killing another human being did flash through my mind.

What are your recommendations on guns, ammo, or equipment for the first-time hunter to Africa?

Depending on what you are after, I am a .30-06 fan for normal plains game, and a .375 H&H for dangerous game, unless if a client is comfortable with something bigger. I believe in Barnes Triple Shock on almost everything when you are looking at softs – you never need to worry about if your bullet stayed together or weight retention.

Which guns and ammo are you using to back-up on dangerous or wounded game and tell us why?

My favorite is my CZ .458 Lott with either Barnes or Peregrine solids both in 500 grain. I recently purchased a Merkel .470NE double, but I am not sure if I am ready to let my Lott retire yet. My Lott is like an extension of my arm and has saved my ass so many times before, or let us be honest, much more than just my ass!

What was your closest brush with death?

I was out hunting with an American client. We went out early morning looking for buffalo and located two bulls that were bedded down. We snuck up to within 40 yards of them, crawling on hands and knees. After breaking a stick to get them to stand up, the client took a frontal shot. The shot looked pretty reasonable. After a while we started following up, but soon realized that the shot probably did not hit where it was supposed to, because of the kind of blood on the trail and the distance we had tracked it. I brought in my trusted tracking dog, Ghani, to assist us. Pretty soon she was on the tracks, and within minutes we could hear her bark – she had the bull cornered.

We then snuck up close to get a shot, the client forgot to take his safety off and that got the bull to move again. He got another chance, but the shot was not good and the bull only moved about 20 yards with Ghani still on it. Still with the dog, we went in again.

At this point we were awfully close, approximately 20 yards away. I probably should have taken the shot, but instead I gave the client another chance to finish off his bull, seeing that it was preoccupied with the dog at the time. Unfortunately, the client did not reload and short-stroked the bolt. When he tried to load, the bull spotted the movement and immediately came at a full charge. I had to get into a better shooting angle as the client moved in front of me. By the time I could get a shot in the buffalo was probably nothing more than 10 yards from me, coming right through a bush still charging at me.

I had no clear target to shoot at. I just had to aim for the black spot heading straight for me through the brush. I took the shot with my trusty .458 Lott and readied myself for the impact. I was 100% sure that this bull was going to run us over, but luckily the next moment he dropped almost at our feet. When I looked around to see if the client was okay, he was lying on his back. As he was trying to get away from the raging bull he had stumbled over a rock.

The trackers came running up to us thinking that the bull was on top of the hunter, it looked that way from their angle. His wife was with us during this whole ordeal with a video camera. I was overly excited at the time thinking that she had got the exhilarating charge on film, but unfortunately she was too busy running away, and all we had was the shots, noises and her cursing as she was trying to get away. Tears were running down the hunter’s face as he thanked me profusely. We were all extremely glad to be unhurt. The good thing I learned from this experience was to not give the client too many chances to shoot.

How has the hunting industry changed in your opinion over the past number of years?

People have less time and want to hunt more on a shorter safari. This puts a lot of unnecessary pressure on a PH to do quantity over quality, and this is unacceptable to me.

If you should suggest one thing to your hunting clients to improve their safari experience with you, or with anyone else for that matter – what would it be?

Study the game you are after, it will enrich your experience, and be at one with your hunting weapon be it a bow or rifle. Africa is not the place to start practicing with it.

What can the industry do to contribute to the long-term conservation of Africa’s wildlife?

Do not make our product cheap. We have a unique and exceptional product – African Wildlife. Do not give it away. Sell it at a fair price, and visitors and the locals will see its value and conserve it. Take the value away from wildlife and you take away the need to protect it.

Research is becoming increasingly popular in convincing authorities worldwide to issue import permits or hunting permits – support that where possible.

What would be your ideal safari if you have one last safari? 

I would personally like to hunt a giant Lord Derby eland before I depart to the eternal hunting grounds.