South Africa: 2015
First African Safari – Hunting with Dirk
By Michael G. Mathis
I landed in Johannesburg with my son Michael G. Mathis Jr after an uneventful flight, and after a three-hour wait in Customs, we boarded the plane to Port Elizabeth. As we’d had only thirty minutes left to board the flight, I was glad I had the pre-approved firearm permit which prevented further delays.
We arrived in PE, and on our way to the Mayogi Safari Lodge which is situated in a canyon that teemed with wildlife in the foothills and surrounding mountains, we spotted impala, springbok, and kudu. Mayogi Safaris is a first-class, fair-chase operation on 35 000 acres owned by the family since 1882, and the only bait and blind hunts are for baboons and jackal.
We had an early night. The next morning at breakfast we met the camp staff and then were off to the rifle range to sight in the guns. I had both of my pre-64 Winchester Model 70s. My .30-06 with a Leupold VX-ll in 2-7X and a .375 H&H Magnum with a Leupold VX-lll in 1.75-6X sighted in a little over an inch high at 200 yards as I was advised that shots would be 100-350 yards. Both guns were pretty much on, so no adjustments were needed. Dirk, our PH for the first two days, was most impressed with the pre-64 Wins, especially the .375 H&H. He and most hunters we met in Africa carried Winchester model 70s and admired pre-64s.
En route to the range with our cameraman JG du Toit and Baby the tracker, we had passed a small herd of springbok and a smaller group of impala. As we approached the range we saw two beautiful sable bulls – the only sable we would see during the trip. Sable was not in our package, so it was great to see them.
We left the range and the safari began. I intended to start the safari with my .375 H&H and only shoot a kudu and impala. However, my son refused to hunt until I had shot everything on our quota which included blesbok, springbok, and duiker.
While scouting in the foothills, Dirk spotted a herd of blesbok in the distance, so we drove a short way and then began to stalk for about a mile. We followed a streambed and climbed out, two small ridges before the spot where the blesbok were gathered. Then Dirk stopped and pointed to an area of dense cover about 200yards away down in the streambed to our right. I looked and looked but could not see the herd, or any animals. Dirk put the sticks up, set my rifle in them and told me to look through the scope. I looked and sighted the head of a beautiful trophy-class impala ram above the brush: It was perfectly centred in my scope.
“Take him?” I asked Dirk.
BANG! The impala dropped from sight, and the herd exploded from the bush, scattering in all directions. It was very similar to shooting whitetail deer in the thick stuff in Pennsylvania.
“You missed; shot right over him,” said Dirk.
I said calmly and softly, “I don’t think so.”
“What do you mean?”
“I made a good shot, I think I got him.”
“Where did you aim?”
I pointed to my left chest.
“Well, you do have a .375 so it might have gone right through him and it was the dust kicked up behind him. Man, you shoot fast!”
Dirk sent Baby, the tracker, down to take a look. The impala lay right where he’d been standing. The round went from his left chest, diagonally through him, exiting in front of the right hindquarter. After Baby attended to the impala, we continued the stalk to the blesbok.
Up a small ridge, down in the stream again and then up the next ridge. The small herd of blesbok was across the canyon on the side of a hill. Dirk told me to shoot the sixth one from the left. I mentally counted till I got to the sixth, squeezed the trigger, and he dropped. “Man, you shoot fast!” Dirk said again. We had two animals down 30 minutes apart! The .375 was talking! I had shot the impala at 175 yards and the blesbok at 200 yards with the scope set at 1.75 power for each. I was sticking with the .375 until I got a kudu.
We went back to camp and relaxed until early evening when we were going out again. With about two hours of hunting light left, we went out into the foothills near the camp after kudu. We crossed a stream and were crawling through brush up the bank where we came upon some ruins of an old farm. There were two 1930s vintage truck hulls rotting away, and a windmill lying on the ground. The brush was very thick with gnarly, woody stems, similar to mountain laurel, but not quite as bad as the laurel in Potter County, PA. We climbed fairly high up the ridge and set up to glass an area below, a valley in front of us, and another ridge beyond us. We didn’t see a kudu, but did watch a group of five impala rams fighting with one another 300 yards below us.
Altogether, the first day’s game sightings also included steenbok, Blesbok, Judsen’s Geese, and Egyptian Geese.
The second day of our safari with Dirk as PH, we headed high into the mountains after kudu. Some kudu choose to live on the plains, some in the foothills, and some high in the mountains like billy-goats. As we started up the mountain we encountered numerous small herds of young kudu bulls and cows, larger herds of red hartebeest with kudus intermingled, and herds of impala and springbok.
Dirk and Baby spotted a large kudu bull with a herd of red hartebeest heading just below the ridgeline of the tallest peaks. We drove in as close as we dared and then closed the rest of the distance on foot. Dirk told me to fill the magazine of the .375, chamber one, and put the scope on 5 or 6 power. The stalk led to a point on the ridgeline giving us pretty good observation in all directions, except the slope directly in front of and below us.
The hartebeest traversed the ridge and were heading across the slope to our front. The kudu bull separated from the hartebeest and was crossing from the right to the left a bit lower behind them. I had a hard time locating him as I was focused on the hartebeest. I finally spotted him and took a careful, well-placed shot while he was trotting and managed to hit him before he disappeared into the heavy cover. I hit him hard and rocked him but he didn’t drop.
The kudu was definitely hurt and not in a hurry to go anywhere. Dirk took a couple of quick shots and connected on one. He told me to keep shooting as we didn’t want to lose him. Dirk shot again and missed. I took a hurried, unsteady shot and missed. I then settled into a good sitting position and took a carefully executed shot, striking the kudu in the neck and out the off shoulder, which knocked him over.
The kudu bull was a nice one, and an old one; he only had one tooth left in his mouth and it was very loose. He was at the end of his life for sure, estimated to be 15 years old! The first shot on was at a trotting target, 270 yards away in a stiff wind. Later that evening before supper, Marius Van Deventer, the oldest living PH in the Eastern Cape, my PH for the remainder of the safari, told me that at that distance on a trotting kudu, I should have held one metre in front of him.
That day’s game sightings added nyala to the list, plus vervet monkeys, mongoose, warthog, bushbuck, and a hawk I couldn’t identify.
Well, one of the main things that I learned in Africa is your eyes and mind need time to calibrate the African scenery. The trees for the most part are much shorter than the trees in a temperate, Pennsylvania forest. The predominant tree species on Mayogi Safari land was wild plum, six to 10 feet high. Trees this height, make distant objects appear very far off, as my mind and eyes are calibrated for trees in the 30 to 100 feet category. It took a while, but I finally dialed in what 200 yards looked like in Africa. I did this with the football field method of comparison.
As we were in the southern hemisphere, about as far south as you could be on African continent, July is the middle of winter. The temperatures for the most part were nightly lows of 45°F and daytime highs of 65°F. One night it got down to just above freezing point! But the weather was very comfortable for outdoor activities with a bonus of not having to worry too much about any snakes.
Together with the people, the place and the ambience, a wonderful hunting experience.