In the Zone
Before my safari to South Africa, I’d only hunted Ontario and Alberta Canada, but Africa was by far my most desired location.
What finally made up my mind to go was when my future mother–in–law got me a subscription to African Hunting Gazette. I found the stories so inspiring as they took me away to a far–off land with plenty of game – but a dream that I wanted to pay for myself. So I began investing in the stock market during one of the worst recessions ever! With a lot of patience, I had enough money in just over two years to pay for me and my fiancée, Holly, to go.
I did a lot of research into outfitters, talking to friends and going online. But I needed more. So I went with Holly to AHG’s African Hunting Show. After much searching and deliberation, I decided upon Cruiser Safaris, located in the Limpopo Province after checking to see that they were a member of PHASA and SCI. For me, these two memberships were a must! They were also amazingly affordable. I had my doubts about getting what I paid – that perhaps trophy quality would not be up to my standards. But, as it turned out, this was, in fact, one of those amazing deals!
So, at 27 years old, on 9 September 2011, we headed out around 2.00 p.m. primarily in search of kudu. Adding to the challenge, the landowner was very restrictive as to which areas of the property we could shoot in, as he mainly tailored to archery hunters. We saw some really nice bulls, but they always seemed to know where the no–shooting zones were and had no problem looking at us as we drove by. It was only Day 3 of the 10–day hunt, and Craig assured me that we’d get our kudu. I also knew from previous outings that other properties we’d hunted on also had trophy kudu. Just none had presented a shot. Putting full faith in PH Craig, I would have to be patient.
I had six animals on my list, but my dream was the majestic Grey Ghost, the kudu. For that, Pieter Lamprecht, the owner of Cruiser Safaris advised, “Shot placement is far more important than knockdown power. If you can’t place the shot well… the extra energy won’t do you any good.” I decided to bring my Remington Model 700 chambered in .308 Winchester and would be shooting the 150–grain Winchester Supreme Elite XP3. I’d also brought my .300 WSM, but I wasn’t shooting nearly as well with it, so the .308 won the day. Craig was a great guy who definitely knew his way around the bushveld.
As evening drew near, the kudu all seemed to be congregated near the waterholes – that happened to be near the archery blinds. We came across one waterhole in a no–shooting zone that had 12 kudu standing by it and most were really nice bulls, magnificent beasts.
We finally came across another small herd of six kudu that were standing in the road within about 500 yards from the boundary of the no–shooting zone. We tried to chase them towards the boundary, but they vanished into the bushes and we lost their tracks before we could even come close to getting a chance at them. One of them was a shooter bull for sure.
We drove around some more not seeing a lot we could shoot, but I was still hopeful.
We eventually came to a T–junction in a shooting zone. We looked down the road to the right and saw three nice but smaller kudu bulls, but they ran off into the bushes to our left. We slowly drove to where they had been standing. I was very excited at the prospect that there might be something bigger lurking in the bushes. As we neared their location, we saw a good kudu bull about 85 yards farther into the bushes, not one of the original three, as we could still see them in the bushes heading towards this bigger bull. Craig devised a plan to use the truck as a shield to cover our movements. The truck slowed down while he and I got out on the opposite side. Craig took a look with his binoculars from behind the moving truck and determined that it was a shooter bull. We set up on the shooting sticks as the truck slowly moved off.
At first, I didn’t have a shot – we had to move the shooting sticks ever so slightly to the right to present a clearer shot. With the brush mostly out of the way, this was better, but I still had a problem. About 20 yards in front of the kudu, there was a big Y–shaped branch that went right across the kudu’s chest and covered the exact spot on its shoulder where I wanted to aim. This created a very small shooting hole that was lower on the body but still presented a vital shot. Craig told me to shoot it right on the shoulder. This is where shot placement counted. I aimed for this spot and fired.
I heard the bullet smack the kudu and it took off running. I quickly reloaded and was just about to shoot again when Craig told me to hold off, as he wasn’t sure I’d hit it. He didn’t want to chance me wounding it on the run if I hadn’t already hit it. I said that I thought I had hit it, but wasn’t 100 % sure, as the bullet very easily could have hit a tree behind it and made the same sound.
At the sound of the gunshot, the dog leaped out of the truck and came running over to us, then made a 90–degree turn and headed off in the direction of the kudu. But Craig called him back, as we didn’t want to risk his getting too far ahead of us. We then waited for the tracker to come to our position before pursuing.
We went into the bush to where we thought the kudu had been standing. We found its tracks and began looking for blood. After following the tracks for about 50 yards, it was beginning to look as though I didn’t hit it. I started replaying all the events in my mind. How could I have missed? Did that branch psych me out and cause me to miss? I was starting to kick myself but was also glad that Craig had stopped me from taking that second shot. Craig was almost at the point of calling off the search and deeming it a clean miss when the tracker finally found a couple of small drops of blood. At least the bullet had made contact, but with such a narrow shooting window, I was worried that I had simply grazed the bull.
Craig showed the blood to the dog and he took off, following the blood trail. We followed as quickly as we could with the dog barking the whole time. Definitely one of the best traits of a bluetick/bloodhound cross. Craig had left his .375 H&H back at the truck, so I agreed to let him take my .308 in case I had trouble keeping up and finishing the kudu if necessary. At this point, I wanted that kudu so badly that I would do anything to get it, including giving my PH my rifle.
Though I was in really good shape, I soon felt out of breath – the air was so thick and dusty that it was causing my dust allergies to act up. Determined, I persevered and kept up with the dog as best I could. Suddenly, the dog’s barks changed pitch. He had found the kudu. I wasn’t sure if it was dead or alive, and we went from a hefty run to full–out sprint. I could finally see a patch of grey movement just on the other side of some brush, though I couldn’t see the dog through the branches and tall grass.
I wanted to shoot from where we were, but Craig wanted to get closer. With the kudu fixated on the dog, we crept slowly up to the animal to get a clearer shot. As we approached it, the kudu spotted us. As it turned, it curled its tail and ran almost straight away. I hesitated only for a split second. I didn’t want to shoot the dog and I didn’t want to shoot the bull in the rump and waste meat. But then I remembered that I was trophy hunting and not meat hunting, so took aim and shot the kudu in its left buttocks as it bounded away into the bushes. The dog again pursued and again we followed.
Nearly out of breath, we finally came to where the dog had the kudu cornered again. I had a mediocre shot at best from where we stopped. Again, Craig wanted to get closer. We crept down lower to the ground this time, and sneaked up on it until I finally had a clear shot. I put the crosshairs right on the left shoulder and fired. The kudu turned, took about three steps with its horns wavering, and then it crashed down.
Craig congratulated me on a job well done, and with being able to keep up to him and the dog. In all the hunting I’ve done, I have never had to move like that before! These animals are very tough, and this was a much–deserved prize.
Craig measured the horns to be about 47½”. Then he and the tracker went back for the truck. When Craig returned he said: “Dip en dee bos” – Afrikaans for “Deep in the bush.” Even after taking photos, I was still trying to catch my breath.
On the way back to camp we saw a brown hyena – quite rare to see them, and this was the second one we’d seen on this safari so far! I arrived back at camp just before dark with the biggest smile on my face, and celebrated at dinner with a nice glass of red wine the most memorable hunt I will ever experience. I will definitely be returning to the great continent of Africa one day, hopefully, in the near future.
On my safari, I also took gemsbok, impala, zebra, bushbuck and waterbuck. Holly also took a very nice gemsbok, which was bigger than mine. The story of that hunt she recounted in “Huntress Diana” in AHG 17.4. But we will return to Africa and, perhaps, my gemsbok will be bigger than hers!
Dean has hunted just about everything from woodcock to black bear since he was 15 years old. He got his love of hunting from his father who had always wanted to go to Africa, but unfortunately could never afford it. Dean paid for this safari by investing his own money in the stock market during the last recession – with no help from family or friends – proof of what determination can do. “Africa was by far my first choice of all destinations.”