Safari In The Limpopo Province
The last time I hunted Africa – a trip to the north-eastern region of Namibia – I had added three species not previously taken: oryx or gemsbok, red hartebeest, and common springbok, as well as a very handsome greater kudu that, along with one I had taken on a Botswana hunt nearly twenty years ago in the Okavango, was nice, but neither had particularly long horns. So on my latest sojourn to the Dark Continent, kudu was again on the menu, but only if its horns had grown to a certain length.
We all like good trophies, and for kudu a good bull starts at around 50 inches. The very lucky kudu hunter may find one of sixty-plus inches but it may take years, if ever. This business of the inches can get a little interesting at times as I found out one day in Botswana when I asked my PH, Willie, to put a tape to a nice impala I had just taken on the first day of the hunt. Willie promptly suggested that if my primary interest was in running around measuring things, he would be more than happy to produce a certain anatomical appendage for measurement! Slightly taken aback, I declined and thought better of taping the animal. Later when he had cooled off a bit, I asked for an explanation, which was simply that he didn’t like guys coming to Africa to shoot stuff just to get their name in a book. I agreed. Getting into “the book” should be a lesser concern than having a good, fair-chase hunt.
Anyway, I had told my PH Phil de Kock of Bosbok Safaris, Limpopo Province, that if I were going to shoot a kudu on this 10-day trip it must be fifty or better, or I would pass. The kudu was one of three primary animals that was the goal of the trip to South Africa, my first actual hunting trip to this large and beautiful country. The main focus was hunting a couple of my favorites, the spiral horns: nyala and bushbuck as well as the kudu.
Certain realities apply to South African hunting, fences being one. Most properties, whether large or small, are game-fenced. Unlike the large government concessions common to some other countries, most of the game is owned and managed by the landowner. Because some properties have some of the more rare species, the landowner may have paid a considerable amount for certain animals and does not want anything to happen to them outside his control. On Bosbok where I was hunting I was most surprised and pleased to encounter a small herd of white rhino on the first morning of hunting. Later we also ran across a small resident herd of Cape buffalo. Neither of these animals is hunted on any of the properties that we hunted on but it was fun to bump into them periodically.
For once the trip to southern Africa was relatively trouble-free and I arrived on time, via Johannesburg, at Polokwane Airport where Phil picked me up for the 45-minute drive to their new lodge and a very comfortable, roomy chalet with thatched roof, hot and cold running water and a steel safe for my valuables.
As is usual for me, a couple of days were spent trying to get my act together after all the flying which leaves me pretty-well messed up and, consequently, I don’t seem to function well right off. On the first day on a very windy hillside I missed a fairly easy shot at a blesbok, and the next day shot poorly on a waterbuck that, unfortunately, was not recovered during my stay. After another day of hunting without result we headed to another property a couple of hours away specifically to hunt nyala, my main quarry.
The cover-loving nyala is a particularly attractive animal that looks like a cross between a bushbuck and a small kudu, as they have both stripes and spots on their hide and, like kudu, they are grey/brown in color, but they also have legs of almost orange with white and black markings. Add to that a mane, both a chest and belly ruff, and you really have something a little different. The horns of a mature nyala can grow to just over thirty inches for the very lucky hunter in the right area. After scouting this nyala area for a while and seeing a few females, a one-horned bull and a couple of others in the thicket, our tracker Nelson and the resident tracker from that property pointed out a good-looking bull in the forest, and we began a stalk. After a few minutes of slowly putting one foot in front of the other our trackers motioned us down as the bull was sighted a little over a hundred yards away with just enough of a hole in the thicket to thread a bullet. Phil offered me his shoulder as a rest and, steadying the Ruger 77 .338 Win magnum, I spotted the bull in the Zeiss scope and took the shot quickly as we had already been busted.
As I recovered from recoil the shot had looked good, but as things aren’t always as they seem it was reassuring when Phil and the trackers were offering handshakes and backslaps. A shoulder shot had felled him where he stood. Now that’s how things are supposed to go! We quickly moved up to where my bull lay and I marveled at this awesome animal, my first nyala. The Hornady 225-grain Interbond bullet had gone on through both shoulders without opening up much, as the exit hole was caliber-sized.
Later that afternoon back on the main property where the blesbok had been playing silly buggers with me, we put a short stalk on a very good buck and put him down cleanly, thankfully ending my embarrassing run of blesbok follies, and bringing to a close about as perfect a day of African hunting as one could ask for.
Next up was bushbuck or bosbok from which the company takes it name. These are dainty little antelope with colors and spots that vary according to particular sub-species based largely on geographics, and in this area they are Limpopo bushbuck. We had been hunting them from the beginning and had seen a few, but usually just glimpses as the little creatures are quite wary and swift. Then while we were hunting in tall grass and reeds near a dry creek bed – classic bushbuck country – late one afternoon, a female bushbuck stepped out of a thicket and slowly made her way to another, apparently unaware of our presence, so we all froze. Then from behind her stepped a nice male. Phil was looking it over in his binos and hadn’t actually given the go-ahead, but the buck’s horns looked good, so I pulled the trigger with the buck no more than 40 yards distant and he fell quickly to a high shoulder shot. He was a very decent specimen with both horns going a little over 13 inches and with an unusually dark coat that Phil admired, so he now owns the back-skin.
With two of my spiral horn goal accomplished and plenty of time to hunt we began to focus in earnest on big kudu for which we had been looking all along. We saw kudu daily, but the weather was a factor with lots of cold and breezy conditions which the animals don’t like and they were loath to settle down.
On Day Seven we were driving along in the Toyota pick-up one frosty morning when the trackers in the back tapped on the roof to indicate they had seen something, but what? Kudu bull, that’s what!
After creeping slowly along for around twenty minutes, Phil and the trackers dropped to a crouch as did I. Phil pointed up the hill around 100 yards and said there was a big bull browsing on some bushes. He offered his shoulder to allow for a steady position to find the bull in the scope. At first all I could see was the head and horns with deep curls. Slowly the body of the bull began to take shape and Phil said, “Take him now, off of his shoulder.” Once again the .338 spoke, and at the shot all hell seemed to break loose with kudu running everywhere when two other previously unknown smaller bulls broke cover! At the distance and shaded position of the bull it was hard to be absolutely certain of the shot, but the sight picture in my mind showed the crosshairs low on the shoulder. We split into groups to look for blood, and after a few minutes of this and not finding any sign doubt began to rear its ugly head. Had I missed this bull or, worse, wounded him? Still, I kept thinking the shot had looked good so where was he? While with Phil we heard a slight whistle from some yards back and Phil said the trackers had found something. In a couple of minutes we caught up with Nelson and Liza and they were standing very nonchalantly over something in the tall grass. As we approached it became clear they were standing next to my dead kudu! One would have thought they were taking afternoon tea! As we began to admire the bull, Phil said, “He is not quite as big as I had thought.”
Oh great! So out came the tape. We taped the bull’s right horn at 49 ¾ inches – a good start, the left horn came in at 51 ¼ inches. Now we’re talking! Even though there were barely two turns to the horns, the depth of curl mentioned earlier made the difference. A subsequent, more deliberate, measurement showed the shorter horn to be right at 50 inches. This may not be the most handsome bull we had seen but he definitely met the criteria. I later playfully chided the trackers for not singing out more enthusiastically when they found the bull. They just grinned and giggled.
With that out of the way, the next day was spent looking for lesser critters like jackal and duiker which up till then had been standing around posing for pictures but now seemed to have vanished. So the following day we bagged hunting in favor of a road trip to the north of the country for a little sightseeing at the Mapungubwe National Park where one can see the confluence of two rivers, the Shashe and the Limpopo of Kipling fame, though the Shashe was dry at the time. At the border crossing station of Point Drift where the Limpopo River is all that separates one from Botswana we were down close enough to the river to tell that, on this day, it was not the “great, grey-green, greasy Limpopo” – rather it was the mostly brown-muddy and covered with motor oil-sheen Limpopo. No doubt in Kipling’s time his description was more accurate.
The last day of the hunt was again spent in pursuit of duiker and such, and for one missed shot on a far-off jackal it was uneventful, but the goals set for this trip had been realized and I could return home content with memories of a good hunt in good company. Great food and companionship with a knowledgeable PH can really make the difference on a hunt, and neither was lacking at Bosbok.
RIFLE SCOPE AND AMMO
On this trip I chose to use an original Ruger M-77 (1968 model) of the tang safety style in .338 Win Mag. It shot well using a hand-load consisting of Hornady’s 225-grain Interbond bullet ahead of 70 grains of Alliant’s Reloder 19 in Winchester cases. It shot MOA out to 300 yards and was consistent. The load is somewhat less than maximum, as I reasoned that all of the mighty .338’s power and recoil would be unnecessary for this hunt. At 2600 fps it still yields 3400 ft/lbs of muzzle energy, plenty for plains game. The rifle was topped with an excellent Zeiss Conquest 3-9 X 50 scope. These scopes are assembled in the USA using German parts and they are a true bargain in the scope world.
Only two bullets were recovered on this hunt. One was taken from the backbone of the blesbok which I had given as a finisher as he wobbled from the initial lung shot. The other was found pushing the offside shoulder of the kudu after breaking the nearside shoulder. These two bullets only retained about 50 per cent of their original weight but obviously did the job as did the others which all penetrated completely.
Scott is a freelance gun/hunting writer here with over 30 articles published primarily in GunWorld magazine but also in Small Arms Review, Tactical Gear, Gun Digest and the Handloaders Digest. He is 57 years old, married with two children, and has been writing for about six years. For most of his life he has worked on or around boats, mostly tugboats that I sailed on, or commercial fishing boats which he worked on as a shipwright in repair. Besides Africa, he has hunted Alaska, Montana, Idaho and in Washington. This was his fifth safari, having hunted in Tanzania, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia previously.