Abigail with her white-horned blesbok bull at the Hotfire property.
By Abigail Prevost
I was not sure what to expect when we stepped off the plane in East London, but I got the feeling that the next two weeks were going to be something incredible – and my gut feeling was correct. We would be leaving with the experience of a lifetime and were already planning to come back in the next few years to this stunningly wild country.
My family and I spent the first two weeks of June in the Eastern Cape of South Africa at Hotfire Safaris, near Cathcart. After being in the air for almost 24 hours and taking three different planes from Calgary and finally to East London, we were all so excited to put our feet on the ground we would be hunting on. After collecting our bags, we were greeted by the two PHs from Hotfire, Pat and Ryan, whose light-hearted banter was the perfect cure for our airplane hangover.
The five of us split into two cars – Ryan took my older brother Jonah and his girlfriend Farrah while Pat took me, my younger brother Spencer, and my father Dean. As we drove the two hours north through the Eastern Cape to reach the property, I was stunned into silence by the beauty of the landscape. Maybe it was because I had never been on the African continent and the geography was so different from the dryness of Southern Alberta and the Canadian Rockies, but each rolling hillside we passed seemed more beautiful than the last. When the sun finally set, the blue sky was quickly replaced with a blanket of stars – more than I had ever seen in one place. I was again in awe of this country I knew so little about.
Stunning sunrise on our first morning at the Hotfire property.
At Hotfire, we had wonderfully designed tents for accommodations (including heated blankets which was greatly appreciated since we seemed to have forgotten that Canada is not the only country that gets cold in the winter) and a fantastic meal of local game accompanied by an array of delicious traditional side dishes. After dinner, we sat by a roaring fire with Ryan and Pat, getting to know one another. While everyone laughed around the fire, I was feeling a little bit nervous about the hunt the next day – it had been a few months since I’d held a rifle and I worried that I would be out of practice. This was also going to be my first big-game hunt.
The next morning, we headed out for some target practice. After hitting the swinging yellow target 100 meters away a few times, I felt much more confident in my shot. Then in two cars we were off for our first taste of an African hunt. Ryan took Jonah, Farrah, and a pre-64 model 70 Winchester in .270 to search for a kudu bull and although the rest of us wished him luck, we were secretly hoping that it would be us who got the first animal of the trip.
Within a half hour of leaving target practice, Pat’s tracker Ayunda, had identified a few blesbok in the bush. We made
our way in, following Pat towards the spot where he and Ayunda had seen it – stopping every so often for Pat to point out various species of wildlife. Then we dropped off Spencer and Dean to wait while Pat and I moved closer to the blesbok. (We found out later that they had got up close and personal with a warthog while we were gone.) Pat handed me the Mauser 98 in .270 with a suppressor, warning me, “It’s live,” before clicking on the safety.
Jonah with his nyala bull on the Hotfire property.
Bent-kneed and hunched over, we slowly crept through the bush with the rocks, trees, and brush giving us cover. When we were as close as we could get without the four blesbok bulls spotting us, Pat spread the shooting sticks and I lifted the rifle onto the stand and got comfortable. Through the scope I could see the four bulls running around, and Pat told me to look for the one whose horns had turned white at the front as that indicated that he was quite an old bull. The blesbok were unaware of our presence but kept hiding behind trees and lying down. After standing ready for a while and realizing the bull was not going to give us a shot from that position, Pat found another angle, and this time when I looked through the scope, I had a broadside shot on the old bull. The nerves started to come back once the safety was switched off and I felt a little shaky. I steadied myself with a deep breath, centered the scope on the spot above his front left leg, and gently squeezed the trigger as I breathed out. I reloaded but in the time that it took me to get a second bullet in the chamber, the bull jumped, then dropped down a few meters away. I could barely hear Pat’s congratulatory, “Nice shot” over my pounding heartbeats from by excitement and shock.
Meanwhile, at the other end of Hotfire, Ryan, Jonah and Farrah were stalking a kudu bull, Jonah’s first animal of the safari. He made such an impressive shot from one cliff across a valley to another cliff that we almost forgot about the truly gruelling trek that it took for us to get up there to help bring the animal down, and it took ten of us all together to carry the bull and the equipment – needless to say that we earned our dinner that night, which again was delicious.
After that first day, we fell into a routine: hunt in the morning, return to camp for lunch, go back out in the afternoon, return to camp, and sit around the fire talking until dinner. It was a routine that I really enjoyed, especially the evening fire. It was the perfect way to close each day’s hunt and wind down for the night.
At the end of our six days of hunting, we each had a trophy and many memories to take home to Canada. But Ryan and Pat were not finished with us just yet – we still had a week to go. We spent the afternoon of our seventh day bird hunting near Stutterheim, camouflaged behind huge stalks of corn. The hunt itself was enhanced by the sun slowly sinking over the horizon till it finally set and colored the sky just above to a faded purple, signalling that it was time to pack up.
We spent the following two days flyfishing at Gubu Lake surrounded by beautiful green hills – also just outside Stutterheim. There was a slight breeze which I didn’t consider when I was strapped into my float tube and began kicking towards the middle of the lake. I focused on practicing my cast. It was my first time flyfishing and as a result I stopped kicking. It’s hard to do two things at once. As I continually cast out my line the wind carried me to the opposite end of the lake, and it took me more time and effort to get back to shore as I was now moving against the wind. But after two days my legs were a lot stronger, my cast improved, and I was able to catch and release a decent-sized trout. The last night at Hotfire we lingered around the fire a little longer, reminiscing about our trip so far.
The following day we were off to Addo Elephant Park and then to Port Alfred. After seeing so many different species of wildlife at Hotfire – kudu, blesbok, wildebeest, warthogs, baboons, impala – I was not expecting to feel so overwhelmed at Addo. But, yet again, South Africa surprised me. Pat’s hawk-eyes spotted everything from hartebeest to black-backed jackal to even a dung beetle on the side of the road. Thank goodness for Dean with his Canon camera or there’d be no photographic evidence of our time at Addo.
Patrick, Ayunda, and Spencer looking for warthogs on the Hotfire property.
Later in the afternoon we came across an Addo elephant. I knew they were big, but I truly had no idea how big until one came up right beside our Land Cruiser and I saw the size of its tusks and the length of its trunk. Though it was moving slowly, each step it took covered a lot of ground.
From a viewpoint in the park, we watched the sun slowly set behind the hills, the animals mere shadows in the evening light. We ended the day with a big family dinner – Pat and Ryan’s families came up to Addo to join us and we got to know a little more about our PHs.
In less the 48 hours we were in Port Alfred – bleary-eyed at the breakfast table before the sun had risen, ready to jump into our fishing boat for the day. I had never been deep-sea fishing before and thought, “It can’t be that hard.” Was I ever wrong! There are certain muscles in our body that don’t get much use, sitting in a university lecture hall taking notes – and it was these such muscles that ached for days after we got off the boat. I was completely taken aback by the strength required to reel in the collection of bottom feeders we were landing every couple of minutes.
But I loved every minute on that boat – the slight ache in my left arm from reeling in the fish, the rush of excitement when I felt a bite on the line, the communal celebration when someone landed a fish, and the brilliant orange on the horizon above the crashing waves as the sun rose over the back of the boat.
Spencer with his warthog on the Hotfire property.
From Johannesburg to Port Alfred, we covered a lot of ground in just fourteen days. We went big-game hunting, bird hunting, fly fishing, elephant spotting, and deep-sea fishing – and we can’t wait to come back and do it all again.
Abigail Prevost lives in Calgary, Alberta in western Canada. She works in consulting but enjoys many types of outdoor activities in her spare time, including bird hunting and fishing. Most of her hunting experience has been in Canada, though she hopes to travel for hunting more in the future.