The Winner Takes All!
By Tim Norris MD
I’ve found the cure for jet-lag!
I started hunting Africa in 1990 and have been fortunate to make twelve trips to Africa since then. One of the issues I’ve had with travel from Idaho to Africa has always been jet-lag. It usually takes two to three days to get my biorhythms in sync with the local time. I can’t justify the cost of business/first class – that’s the price of multiple trophy animals – and I find it impossible to get much sleep crammed into economy. This trip would be different.
I’m a life member of SCI and usually attend their convention, whether I’ve got a hunt booked or not. It’s the closest thing I’ve found to a kid’s Toys R Us for the hunter. As a long-time subscriber to the AHG, I usually stop by their booth to chat and renew my subscription. In 2016 the renewal incentive was a chance to draw an all-expenses paid 7-day sable antelope hunt with Jan Taljaard’s Impisi Safaris — a snowball’s chance in hell, right? Needless to say, I was surprised when I received a call from the AHG’s Nichole Kelly informing me that I had been drawn for the hunt. Coincidently, I had visited Impisi Safaris’ booth at the convention, and was familiar with their operation. Now, I was really pumped.
Good health and time are two of life’s most precious commodities. The unexpected death of two friends within several weeks of my lucky win really served as a wake-up call. I needed to spend more than seven days in Africa on this trip. The Caprivi Strip (now Zambezi Region) elephant/buffalo hunt I had considered for 2019 needed to become a reality, and this was the opportunity to make it happen – and make it happen now. I coordinated with Jan of Impisi Safaris and Dawid Muller of Daggaboy Hunting Safaris in Namibia to make a plan. Jan volunteered to organize an overland trip from his concession in the Limpopo Province to Daggaboy Hunting Safaris’ camp in the eastern Caprivi Strip – an opportunity to experience five days of sightseeing in Botswana, a country I had never visited. It turned out to be an interesting trip and an opportunity to visit Vic Falls again.
We arrived in Joburg at 6 p.m. after the usual sleepless 16-hour flight from Atlanta. I had never utilized a VIP/meet & greet service before, but did so for this trip. It was worth every penny and I highly recommend it. We were met at the gate, breezed through immigration/customs, acquired the RSA gun permit, and linked up with our outfitter in 30 minutes. I think this was a new world record for transiting the JNB airport! The drive to Impisi Safaris’ camp took about 4½ hours and we arrived in camp around midnight, and after a quick orientation, we were shown to our tent. Technically this structure could be called a tent, but in fact was the most luxurious accommodation I’ve had in Africa.
We woke up 13 hours later at 2 p.m! This was the cure for jet-lag, and we started our first hunting day -what was left of it – completely refreshed. I think the last time I’d slept that long I was an exhausted infantry grunt in the US Army! The camp chef organized a delicious afternoon brunch, and we linked up with Jan to discuss our plans for the rest of the day. I requested an opportunity to verify my rifle’s zero and a tour of the hunting concession. The rifle for this trip was a custom pre-64 model 70 Winchester in .300 H&H Mag, the same rifle I had taken on my first safari in 1990 to Zimbabwe.
When we arrived at the rifle range it confirmed my initial impressions of the Impisi Safaris operation. This was not some slapdash, shoot-off-the-hood-of-the-truck setup, but a serious concrete benchrest range! The zero of my rifle was quickly confirmed, and off we went on the tour of the hunting concession.
Within five minutes of leaving the rifle range I saw the first sable—three nice bulls with one exceeding 40 inches. The excitement of hunting Africa came rushing back. Quite frankly, it was hard to restrain myself from having a go at the largest bull. We continued driving the concession, and it became obvious how game-rich this operation was – kudu, eland, zebra, wildebeest, warthog, waterbuck, gemsbok, giraffe, impala and more were seen on the way back to camp.
The Impisi Safaris’ camp is built on the dominant terrain feature in the area, a huge kopje that offers a spectacular view of the Limpopo Province and southern Botswana. The camp consists of a large dining tent with impressive decking that incorporates a baobab tree. Three guest tents are engineered to blend in with the kopje; staff quarters and the cooking facilities are a discreet distance away and are unobtrusive. Jan and Anton Taljaard did a remarkable job with the location and construction of their camp, and have created one of the most unique and comfortable safari camps I have ever seen.
I met my PH, Logan van Zyl, and apprentice PH Corné Olivier at dinner, and we preceded to formulate a plan for the rest of the hunt. Charles Mutswapo, a chef from Zimbabwe, served an outstanding meal, setting and maintaining a high standard for the rest of our meals at camp.
I wanted to find a sable bull with character, not necessarily the longest or highest scoring, but one that really caught my eye. Needless to say, this created a challenge for Logan and Corné. We spent several days looking for sable. Hunting consisted of “diesel stalking” with multiple dismounts and stalks on animals; “still” hunting through likely cover, and spot and stalks from elevated terrain. I passed on multiple shooting opportunities on sable bulls in the 40”-42” range, much to the chagrin of Logan and Corné! On the third day at last light I saw an old sable bull with exceptional mass and well-rubbed horns. He wouldn’t go more than 38” in length, but he had the character I was looking for. He was a very old animal and probably in his last year—this was perfect! Unfortunately there wasn’t enough shooting light remaining and we would have to continue the hunt the next day.
Three days later we found my “character” sable bull. He had managed to elude us for days of intensive hunting. We found him mid-morning and attempted a stalk. He was 600 yards away, had not seen us and the wind was perfect for our approach. The vegetation on the Impisi concession can be quite thick, and we lost sight of the bull at 150 yards; quite simply, he just disappeared. We intersected his tracks and followed him for about half a mile, and ended up close to where we had first caught sight of him. He had made a 180 degree fishhook maneuver and was now downwind of us! We followed him for a short distance, heard a snort from behind some thick brush, then the sound of hoofbeats as he bounded off. Oh well, time to head back to camp for lunch.
Over lunch we made a plan for the afternoon hunt. Logan van Zyl has hunted the Impisi concession for several years, and had a good idea of where we might find this cagey sable. After three hours of hunting we again located the bull. We caught him bedded down, and he appeared to be sleeping. Again the conditions seemed perfect for a stalk – wind directly in our face – and we commenced a 500 yard stalk. As we closed to 250 yards we started crawling on our hands and knees, and at 125 yards converted to a butt crawl to keep him in continuous view. At 90 yards I sat and prepared myself for a shot. Although the wind direction had been consistent during our approach, the bull somehow sensed something was amiss, and got to his feet. As he turned to leave I shot him in the shoulder with a 180 gr Nosler partition bullet, and he was down within 20 yards of the shot.
A successful hunt by definition includes a kill, but as I’ve gotten older my emotions toward the kill have become more conflicted. There is euphoria over the success of the hunt, mixed with a sadness at the death of a beautiful animal. Logan and I spent several minutes in silence paying our respects to this truly magnificent sable bull.
We had a wonderful time during our week with Impisi Safaris, and it exceeded my expectations in all respects. Dianette van Zyl, the camp manager, ran a superb staff, and 5-star evening meals were the camp routine. The atmosphere and camaraderie around the campfire truly captured the essence of the African safari experience.
Jan, I would be remiss in not thanking you again for organizing my tour of Botswana and the trip to the Caprivi Strip – Corné Olivier did an excellent job. I look forward to hunting with Impisi Safaris again.