Africa. From a young boy to this day I have always been haunted by the Dark Continent. I read the books by Hemingway, J.A. Hunter and others and dreamed of the day that I might get to see this great country and hunt its abundant game.
That day arrived on June 26, 2006, for my wife and me. I was so excited that I couldn’t sleep at home or on the airplane because this was going to be the biggest adventure of my life.
It started several months before after talking to my booking agent in Tucson, Arizona. I met Todd Rathner on the Internet and decided he had the right package for us so I asked him to book the trip. He picked Tollies African Safaris near the East Cape town of Summerset East, RSA. He raved about the accommodations, the quality/quantity of game and the home-like atmosphere of the outfitter. It sounded just like the kind of placed we’d like to hunt and relax.
Landing in Johannesburg the morning of June 27, my wife and I were set to go. We had made additional arrangements to spend a few days in Johannesburg and then go on to Kruger National park before continuing on South to Summerset East.
We spent a two nights in Zulu Nyala before continuing to Kruger National Park. Zulu Nyala was truly a wonderful welcome to South Africa. We relaxed with everything we could have asked for: Great food, accommodations and just a wonderful place to recoup from the 18-hour plane ride.
Kruger was everything we expected and more. Our guide, “King Charles” was a delight and knew more about the animals than anyone I had ever met. He was a pure joy to be around and made the Kruger experience truly something special. The only animal we didn’t see of the Big Five was a leopard. This, however, wasn’t why I came to Africa—I was ready for the hunt.
After a 4-hour drive back to Joburg through some of the most beautiful country I’d ever seen, we were finally on the way, arriving in Port Elizabeth at noon the next day. We were met at the Port Elizabeth International Airport by our professional hunter (PH) “Bean,” a young man with one eye. I would learn later that he sees more with one eye than most people see with two.
Two hours after leaving Port Liz we arrived at the Tollie Ranch where we were met by our hostess Karen Tollie and her three sons. “Bean” and I went to the range and ensured that my rifle had survived the airline baggage handlers. After one round the gun was exactly where I’d left it on my home range. I was ready and more excited than I have been on any hunt in my life.
The next day dawned a cool 45 degrees, clear with a slight wind out of the north. At 7 a.m we were underway, with Bean acting as both the guide and professional hunter, Eric the video operator and Komandie, our tracker and skinner. Just a quick word about this outstanding group. They were the most professional people I have ever hunted with. They were tireless, knowledgeable and set a standard for others to live up to.
I selected the black wildebeast as my first animal to hunt. After approximately an hour of driving, we spotted a herd 3 miles from the truck so we started a foot stalk from there. The stalk took us through some of what I thought was the roughest open country I had ever had to walk or crawl though. Almost 2 hours later we were in position for a shot, however the animals weren’t very accommodating and spooked before I could get a shot. Komandie, as he would on almost every hunt over the next 10 days, began a long trek to turn the animals and bring them back to our area. Bean and I moved into position and waited in ambush for my prize. After an hour of repositioning and excruciating crawls and up-hill runs, we were ready. The first of the group came over a rise in front of us, and as wildebeests will do, stopped just out of what we thought was good shot range to graze. We moved closer and finally were in position where we thought the shot was reasonable. The herd started to move at a trot and passed about 300 yards left to right in front of us.
“Take the third one from the front!” Bean said. I raised the Browning A-Bolt .300 Win. Mag. and placed the crosshairs just above the right shoulder and squeezed the trigger. The recoil didn’t allow me to see the results but the smack of the Barnes XLC 180-grain bullet confirmed a hit. I lowered the scope to what I thought the flight path was and sure enough the beast was lying dead on the spot. The bullet hit high on the spine, broke his back and killed him instantly. A long, moving shot—a single shot kill after a long stalk. I couldn’t have been more proud or pleased.
We returned to the ranch and Komandie and his helpers began dressing the animal. They made short work of the process using all the skills of years of experience.
That afternoon Bean decided I should try for a springbok. We made a similar stalk from the morning hunt and were rewarded with another good one-shot kill from 250 yards. So far two shots, two beautiful animals. I thought at this rate I’d be through with the hunt in a couple of days.
We had lots of daylight left that day and decided to do some scouting for a kudu Bean had seen earlier in the week before our arrival. Kudu was one of the animals I targeted from the beginning. They’re spooky animals that love heavy cover so we took off in the truck to see what we could find. An hour and a half into the trip Bean suddenly slammed on the brakes and yelled “Get out of the truck and load you gun!” I didn’t see anything but I was ready.
“There just over the hood of the truck, do you see him?”
The Kudu was standing in the deep brush and looked enormous. He turned his backside to me and started up the high hill behind him. Not much of a target from 300 yards away, but it might be the only shot I’d get. After the shot, dust flew off his back but it wasn’t a good hit. He turned to the left and was now at a full run and opening the distance with every stride. He presented and a full broadside shot and I knew I had him.
What happened next is the curse of anyone who’s ever hunted: The dull click of an empty chamber.
The A-Bolt’s clip had fallen out and left me holding an expensive club. I was furious and had several unkind words for Browning. I managed to handload a round in the chamber as the kudu topped the hill. One shot was all I was going to get so I squeezed off the round. Dust flew from high on the bull’s back. He turned and was gone. Afterward, we thought the shot would measure about 450 yards, up hill.
It was getting dark as we climbed the hill looking for blood. After about 45 minutes we would have to give up until morning, it was just too dark. I was sick. No blood, tracks or hair.
The next morning we were in the field bright and early. In addition to us there were 25 farm workers who would help us find the animal. Komandie found blood after a short walk from where we left off last night, and I felt much better. Bean sensed I was relieved and said, “Don’t worry I know just where he went.” An hour later we had the animal, or more correctly, he had us. He ran down in a canyon and into the thickest cover I had ever seen. The farm helpers, Bean and Komandie dove into the bush while Tollies two sons and I guarded the canyon rim. After an hour they found what was to become my kudu. He was down but not out so Bean dispatched him where he stood rather then taking a chance of him getting away again. His horns measured 120 inches, which is well within the specification to get into the SCI record book. However, I refused to claim the record prize since Bean did the final kill. My shot was not the killing shot although we agreed he would have probably died from the wound. I was just relieved we got the animal. It took another 2 hours to get him out of the canyon and it was only a 500-yard walk downhill.
We decided to take the rest of the day off and prepare for the next days hunt for mountain blesbuck. As you might expect, mountain blesbucks are found in the mountains. After the previous day’s experience I was expecting another tough hunt, and I wasn’t disappointed. After a very long uphill stalk I connected on a very nice buck at 350 yards with one shot followed by a safety shot that I’d hoped would eliminate another episode from the day before.
We went scouting for gemsbuck that afternoon and saw a monster on a ridge high up the mountain to the north of the ranch. Bean said it was the one he’d been after for a long time and just hadn’t been able to get close enough. We laid plans to start our hunt the next day.
It was an early start as always with cool temperatures and high optimism as we left in search of our gemsbuck. Three days later we were still trying to get close enough to one for a shot. Late afternoon on the third day we finally got our chance. Komandie, like he did with the wildebeest, helped get him in position. Bean and I set the ambush and our tracker brought him straight to us. At 100 yards Bean motioned for me to take him. The huge animal maintained his course and came straight down the gun barrel. I aimed for the neck and left shoulder area and squeezed off the round.
He was hit and hit hard, but he turned to my right and began a trek toward the canyon. I had a beautiful broadside shot and it happened again.
The magazine had fallen out of the A-Bolt again and I was on an empty chamber. Over the rim he went and with his escape went my chances for this outstanding animal, or so I thought. We got to the rim in time to see him open the distance between us and him at an alarming rate. I tried one offhand shot but missed. All we could do now was watch him disappear into the bush.
We moved down the canyon after him with little or no hope of getting another shot. He had opened a distance of about 2 miles when he stopped and stood broadside to us. We stalked him to within 600 yards when Bean said, “Can you shoot from here? I think this is as close as we’re going to get.” I told him I’d try and took up a position on a nearby boulder and using my hunting jacket I took aim. The first shot hit 5 feet short, the second between his four legs. He didn’t seem to see us and didn’t know where the shots were coming from. My next shot was at least 6-8 feet above his back and entered his body just under the spine and down though the liver. He walked off into the bush, apparently unconcerned.
“He’s hit hard we’ll find him.” We did find him and he was everything I’d hope, but it took another round to kill him. The first round on top the canyon had gone through the neck muscle down through both lungs and out his left side and he still ran all that distance. He measured ninety three points and would go into the SCI books.
This animal can take a lot of lead. His skin in the neck area and shoulder is sometimes three quarters of and inch to a full inch thick. What is even more amazing is that a lung shot does not necessarily mean a killing shot. Bean told me that sometimes their lungs will heal and they continue a normal life.
I completed my hunt with a very nice Impala and could not have more pleased.
A word about the A Bolt. When I returned to the states I called Browning told them the trouble I experienced. They claimed they had never had a complaint concerning that particular problem. Whether that’s the case or not I don’t know and frankly don’t care. I replaced the parts holding the clip in place and it seems to have solved the problem.
Hunting in Africa is everything you’d expect. Beautiful country, people, and animals. However, be aware of a couple things. When you go, be prepared for a hard hunt, be prepared for long range shooting, and be in shape. These animals are not standing along the side of the road, they are in deep bush and give all the hunting adventure you want.