South Africa: 2015
A Zebra for Carole
By Archie Landals
Memories of our Namibian hunt in 2012 frequently rekindled our desire to return to Africa, and Carole and I discussed animals we would like in our trophy room, and our priority was a zebra skin.
Carole had learnt to shoot in Canada with her own rifle, a Savage Lady Hunter in 30-06, and she wanted to be the one to take the zebra.
We had worked at the African Event in Calgary, January 2015, for Louw van Zyl, our Namibian friend from Track a Trails Safaris. Our booth was next to Izilo Hunting Safaris, Mark Oberem and Dave De Coning from East London, South Africa, and during the course of the show we chatted about the possibilities of a safari. Mark and Dave said they would organize a tour between Cape Town and East London to make the experience even more interesting.
The upshot was our first trip to Africa by ourselves, on a personalized tour with Trevor Ankiewicz, a retired forester and university professor as our guide and driver. Trevor was an excellent choice. He knew every nook and cranny of the region as well as all the plants and animals, and took us to botanical gardens and nature hot spots that were not on our itinerary.
Our adventures over the course of two weeks included monuments, parks, wineries, breweries, farmers markets and scenic viewpoints. We visited Cango Caves and had tours at Cheetah Land, an ostrich farm, primate rehabilitation center and an elephant rescue center. Boat tours took us to seal and cormorant colonies, whale watching and cage diving with the Great White Sharks. Shamwari Game Reserve, a photographer’s paradise, could be a stand-alone holiday. With the exception of leopard, we photographed the rest of the Big Five. Plains game was everywhere. The evening sound of wildlife during our sundowners was enchanting. For us, it was African magic.
A four-hour drive from Shamwari got us to East London where Mark was waiting. We picked up Wilson our tracker and headed for Maweni Lodge, near Queenstown, three hours north. Maweni is a storybook hunting lodge: thatched roof, red sandstone buildings in a natural setting surrounded by mountains, with impala grazing on the lawn. We had one of three fully furnished guest cottages. Meals were in a beautifully constructed central lodge. Gary and Dag were gracious hosts with a lifetime of stories, especially about hunting leopard with hounds.
Millions of years of erosion of flat-lying red sandstones sculpted the landscape around Queenstown. Mountain ranges were separated by wide basins with streams in the valleys. Several truck trails provided access to the mountains at Maweni. There were always panoramic views. Giraffe, waterbuck, eland, kudu, impala, warthog, mountain reedbuck and zebra were visible every time we stopped to look.
The first evening we watched kudu, impala, giraffe and zebra on the mountainside and discussed where we might make a stalk on a zebra for Carole. We were confident we would have ample chance to get one while we looked for nyala.
Up at 6:00 we had a quick coffee and were off at first light with plans to return for a hot brunch mid-morning. Ten minutes from the lodge, Wilson tapped on the roof and pointed out an Eastern Cape kudu on the mountainside. Although not an animal we intended to hunt, Mark said it was a very good bull and that I should take it. Grabbing the rifle, I started up the mountain behind Mark. The steep slope was strewn with large sandstone boulders concealed in tall grass, making footing tricky. I was so out of breath I could hardly stand when I caught up to Mark. And after spending two weeks with Trevor, I did not need to ask Mark what an aloe was when he said the kudu was above the tallest aloe!
My first shot wounded the kudu, and as he emerged from the bush at 400 yards I hit him twice more, but he did not go down. I quickly reloaded and saw him standing facing Gizmo, the Wire Haired Fox Terrier.
“Don’t shoot,” said Mark, “Gizmo will chase him down the mountain.” He did. By the time I got to the bottom, Wilson and Gizmo were there, standing near the kudu lying in the brush, where I finished him off. When skinned and quartered it weighed over 800 pounds, the heaviest ever taken at Maweni.
The morning still young, our hunt continued. Passing up several large waterbuck, we neared the top of a mountain trail and spotted eland across a steep valley. With the spotting scope we confirmed a couple of good bulls, but the wind direction and lack of cover ruled out a stalk. Glassing the surrounding mountains turned up three bulls on our side of the valley. With a favorable breeze, we started a long fast stalk on the bulls that were moving quickly. I finally got a chance at 368 yards. Using a 7mm Remington Magnum with a 4 to 12 scope that belonged to Mark, I put the cross hairs just above the eland’s shoulders and heard the bullet hit. He took a few steps forward, staggered back and tumbled down the mountain. I had a magnificent eland bull with a large red ruff. Regrettably we settled for a European mount, as it was far too large for our trophy room.
Happy hunters, we returned to the lodge for brunch. During our stay, Dag cooked what we had shot, a great treat. The afternoon and evening we spent looking for nyala as we did the following evening and next two mornings. Nyala would appear like phantoms, peeking out of the thick brush on the steep rocky slopes. Some were immature bulls; others appeared as shooting light was failing. One exceptional bull gave us the slip on an unsuccessful stalk.
The second morning we passed up two solitary zebra stallions on a rugged mountain slope with little cover, before spotting five stallions with a group of giraffe. These were in more accessible terrain and looked like a better bet for Carole. Making careful note of visible landmarks, a long circular stalk was planned to take advantage of the wind and available cover. The giraffe towering above the bush helped the stalk. Quietly following Mark and obeying his hand signals, Carole was eventually in position. The zebra did not go down after two solid hits at 180 yards. Staying out of sight and downwind, Mark continued the stalk with Carole following close behind. Mark was an excellent PH, with all the patience in the world coaching a first-time hunter, and soon had Carole in position and back on the shooting sticks. This time it dropped. Carole was ecstatic – she had her first African animal. I was more excited for her than I have been in many years of hunting. Photos in a beautiful African setting capped off a magical morning.
Imvani, a fabulous landscape of open savannah between sloping mountains was our destination on day three. We were hoping to get Carole a chance at a black wildebeest or red hartebeest. From the mountain slope we were able to glass vast areas of the plain. Hundreds of animals, wildebeest, hartebeest, impala, zebra and blesbok grazed below. A wildebeest some distance from the herd was a possible stalk. A mile later we were getting close. I waited while Carole followed Mark. After several attempts they were in position, and Carole dropped a good bull with one shot. Following Mark, she ran so hard she had the dry heaves. She need not have run – she had a second beautiful trophy.
Before leaving Imvani, I got a red hartebeest. As a group of them moved quickly through the bush, the best bull passed through a small opening and I dropped it. Mark commented that he had not yet found it in the rangefinder. I would like to say that when I shoot I let out a deep breath and squeeze the trigger, but that is seldom true. I have always shot fast, handling my rifle on a moving target much as I do my shotgun; it is an automatic reflex.
We left Maweni without finding the elusive nyala. We headed for the coast and Crawfords Beach Lodge a resort with all the amenities, pool, spa, lounge, dining room, laundry service, drinks on the beach; all part of the hunting package. They did their best to get us hooked on cappuccino, and might have succeeded if it hadn’t been for the local beer and great South African wines. The balcony of our thatched-roof suite looked out on the Indian Ocean, with palm trees and waves lapping on white sandy beaches. Izilo Safaris is really on to something for those with non-hunting partners. Izilo has access to nearby properties with most species of plains game. We were hopeful we would find a nyala and bushbuck, but were unconcerned as we had already had a great hunt.
On my first chance at a nyala… I shot over it twice! My second chance was a good hit and it dropped with the second shot. Mark quickly congratulated me, told me to wait, and headed off at a run for the truck. Wilson, a second tracker, and Gizmo headed toward the nyala. With Gizmo barking and the trackers yelling, I had visions of them trying to finish off the nyala with a rock. (I later found out that all the noisy excitement was caused by a swarm of bees from a nest they had stepped on.)
Then I realized why Mark had run – I was out of shells. Returning, he handed me his .300 Remington Ultra Magnum, told me to plug my ears and go finish it off.
Before our hut was over Carole got a fine impala ram, again with a single shot. A hunter for less than a year, she had shot at four animals and got them all.
I missed my first four!
Bio: Retired after 40 years in parks and conservation, the author has hunted for as long as he can remember. He has hunted across his native Alberta, Canada as well as New Zealand, Namibia, South Africa, the western United States and the Canadian Arctic. In 2013 he was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for his work in conservation.