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By Professional Hunter Ross “Stix” Hoole

Stepping up two low stone terraces into camp for the first time, I looked up, an overwhelming sense of euphoria hit me, in front of me lay a vast river with Elephants drinking to a serenade of Hippo in a deep pool with a setting sun. This was the Luangwa River, we had arrived in Zambia.

Zambia was certainly a destination I had dreamed of visiting for many years. When the country closed hunting on all government concessions in 2012, I never dreamt that just two years later they would re-open. For me, it was an interesting safari destination since it boasts many game species that don’t occur – or are very uncommon in Southern Africa, and it has a revered reputation for great Cape Buffalo and Leopard hunting. Looking for a new destination to travel to with our many John X Safaris friends, Carl and I had sat together for many hours researching and following up on various hunting concessions and operators who would fit the profile for what we wanted our clients to experience on a concession dangerous game safari.

A good friend of ours and loyal supporter of John X Safaris, Sam Cunningham, and I decided that for his next safari we would pursue a Leopard – widely considered one of the toughest of the Big 5. With this being the priority specie, we settled on Zambia as our target destination. Apart from our Leopard, we would hunt opportunistically on the various plains game species available, as well as Cape Buffalo.

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After landing on a remote strip in the Nyamvu hunting concession in the Luangwa Valley, we were immediately met but by a very jovial team of camp staff – singing, clapping and offering us cold pineapple juice and a refresher towel as we walked into camp. We relaxed for the afternoon absorbing the beauty, the good hospitality and warm weather, tomorrow would be our first hunting day.

The first order of business on any Leopard hunt is the hunting of bait animals.

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We harvested a Zebra stallion at the advice of our Zambian Professional Hunter, Werner. He laughed and described it as ‘Desert for a cat’ explaining to us how, in their climate, Zebra meat seemed to last the best and give out a great scent.

We hung six baits over three days and harvested a fantastic Lichtenstein Hartebeest, as well as a Puku, along the way which gave us extra baits and much enjoyed camp meat.

Trail Cameras were set at each site and careful consideration was taken for blind placement at each should a big male start feeding. What was incredible for Sam and I was how well Werner and the trackers interacted with both the game scouts and the local villages. Every morning, the two scouts presiding over our safari would radio the scouts out on patrol in the concession gathering as much “intel” on Leopard and Buffalo sightings or any fresh activity. One such report came from the local village that regularly saw a big male track and had recently lost two dogs in the village. We responded to this call out, and were amazed at how close to the villages we found Leopard, Buffalo and Elephant tracks. The scouts explained the ongoing conflict between the wildlife and villages, especially now during their dry season. Elephants and Buffalo raid vegetable patches and the big cats look for easy prey, may that be domestic stock or human. We hung a bait at a nearby spring, a couple of hundred yards from the village.

By day five we had seen tons of game. We stalked various herds of Buffalo, one herd in particular exceeded 400 animals! Other small herds of “Dagga Boys” consisting of up to five old bulls were spotted and stalked regularly, but we continued on, passing them up. We saw Elephants daily and had some cows and calves charge the truck one morning. We added a magnificently colored Chobe Bushbuck to our list, harvesting a nice ram skulking along the river bank.

Zambia is also one of the few areas you can hunt free ranging Roan Antelope, we were fortunate to harvest a great old bull along the way too.

Zambia is also one of the few areas you can hunt free ranging Roan Antelope, we were fortunate to harvest a great old bull along the way too.

The experiences were mounting everyday, but so to the pressure to get a Leopard. Every evening arriving back in camp, we were heartily greeted by camp manager, Bester, with a warm face towel and cold fruit juice which we sipped gazing out over the 300 yard wide river.

The Elephant had the same plan as us, as they too would come in for their evening drink before heading out to feed for the night. One evening I jokingly asked Sam; “How long before this scene gets old?” “Never!” was his immediate response and the appropriate answer as every evening we ritually sat there and reflected in silence as the Elephant drank.

On the sixth day, many of our baits started being hit! The Leopard activity had kicked in just as Werner had predicted. Interestingly enough was the arrival of an acrobatic pride of Lions hitting the same bait as a nice looking Leopard Tom.

And then one of our baits revealed a Leopard female...

And then one of our baits revealed a Leopard female…

And with her, as if appearing out of thin air…. There he was. All attitude and raw power standing on our horizontal branch eating his ‘dessert’.

There was a huge amount of excitement and a sense of urgency. Werner and his team kicked into another gear as we rushed off gathering blind material and Sam shot a mature Impala as a refresher bait.  Once we had the blind built to Werner’s satisfaction, we drove a few miles away and setup for lunch. Sam and Werner sat with the iPad onto which we had copied all the trail camera photos of the Leopard feeding. They discussed shot placement in great depth while I tended to lunch. We ate and then relaxed for a further two hours – which felt like an eternity – waiting until 15:45 before heading back to the blind to sit till dark.

When you first sit in the blind, you are on full alert. Knowing full well that nothing is going to come in immediately, you still look and listen carefully. After 30 minutes that ‘edge’ had worn off and we relaxed in silence listing to nature. 17:15 – “There is a cat climbing our tree”, Werner calmly whispered. The lazy, sleepy feeling shoots to high alert and full adrenaline immediately! Within seconds our big male Leopard is standing on the branch. He looks around to see if all is in order, “Don’t move” Werner whispered again. The Tom started feeding.

Werner started explaining to Sam once again where he wanted the shot placed, but every time he was about to squeeze the trigger, the cat would move. Our hearts sank when after five minutes of no shot opportunity, the Leopard jumped out of the tree. The frustration in that moment nearly left us in tears! The amount of hard work, early mornings, late evenings, hundreds of miles driven surely couldn’t result in this cat jumping and leaving? It felt like an hour, but two minutes later he was back on the branch. This time Sam did not hesitate and took the first opportunity he could.

There was complete silence after the shot which was a good sign. A wounded cat would certainly always growl while running off, and both Werner and I were positive we saw it drop off the branch. As with any Dangerous Game, we treated it with utmost respect and followed up as if it were possibly still alive. We crested a termite mound in front of the tree, rifles ready, when Werner shouted in a native dialect, “the Leopard is dead!” we all erupted in hugs and handshakes as it sunk in that we had harvested this beautiful animal. We examined it in every way and simply just absorbed its beauty, age, and size. We noticed the animal was down in condition, he had very sadly been a victim of poaching – he was missing a right paw. This could only have happened by being caught in a poachers Gin Trap. To go through the process of baiting, looking for fresh tracks, gathering intel from the local villages, the frustrations of baits not being hit, and then to harvest an old Leopard like this with an injury that was preventing him from hunting properly, was a privilege.

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As we drove back to camp after dark, we could hear our camp staff singing from a mile off. We drove into camp met by traditional tribal hunting song and dance. More than just a trophy and hunting experience for Sam and I, to our trackers and the surrounding villages this Leopard was a gift from the hunting gods, an animal they had endured conflict with, and now with its harvesting much-needed income would be injecting into an isolated rural area, in so doing easing the tension between man and beast. A strict hunting quota would and could be tolerated with sustainable benefits, something so important in these remote concessions.

Spending my Birthday with Sam…..

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A Cape Buffalo was still on our list. We had stalked various herds during the course of our safari, but were unable to get a shot. On the last day of the hunt, we celebrated my birthday. Is there any finer way for an outdoors-man to spend a birthday, but with good friends, world-class hunting, and in Africa?

We headed out with the solid intention of hunting a big Buffalo.

That morning we headed out with the solid intention of hunting a big Buffalo.

Sam and I have hunted together so many times before, that neither of us would leave disappointed if we were not to find the type of Buffalo we were after. It was not that we were chasing inches, we were after a classic old bull with drop and spread. We had seen a bunch up to this point, but could never get onto the right one.

Once again, local intel was pivotal in finding a herd we had not yet looked over. We met up with the game scout that had seen the fresh tracks on his morning patrol. We tracked for about an hour before we caught up with the herd. The wind created a challenge since it kept swirling and just wouldn’t blow consistent. The herd soon broke cover and fled, while Werner and I carefully looked to see if we could see anything worth going after as the dust gathered in the stampede of hooves.

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Werner was standing on a termite mound and frantically scurried over to Sam and I – “there is a Sod of a bull here, I think it may be like 44 inches”. I nearly fell over, but knew I must have heard wrong.

We frantically followed the herd as fast as possible, but careful not to bump them again, this was after all the last day and probably our last chance. We got onto the herd again, but this time the wind was in our faces and the herd was spread out feeding. We looked over the various bulls and then found the bull Werner had seen, he was feeding away from us and he was huge. His spread stretched outside his hind quarters and he stood a foot above the surrounding bulls. I started panicking deep inside as if it was getting away from us and this sinking feeling of it slipping away crept in over me.

Patiently we waited as the bull turned more broadside, but the shot would be a long one. We typically wouldn’t let anyone shoot a Buffalo at 150 yards, and certainly not quartering. Sam wasn’t anyone though, he is the finest marksman I have ever hunted with, and Werner agreed. We set up the sticks and then the years of diligent practice paid off when his shot rang home. The entire herd turned and ran toward us – they had no idea we were there. Sam had kept on the right animal all the way and hit him again on the run at 30 yards – this shot broke the shoulder and stopped the bull in his tracks. As it spun and crashed to the ground, the magnitude of the bull was in full view. We approached carefully and once again our little hunting party was engulfed in a wave of excited euphoria.

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There is a saying in Africa – ‘When it rains it pours’. Well it poured on my birthday. We had just taken the biggest Buffalo ever harvested in the history of the concession – a whopping 45 incher!

We left Zambia having experienced a safari like no other, being enriched by different cultures, wildlife, and individuals. We forged new friendships through hunting experiences that transcended all language, age, or race barriers – coming away with an experience like no other.

We will be back.

For more information and current updates about John X Safaris; follow us on Twitter, connect with us on Facebook, subscribe to our YouTube Channel and visit our Website!

Rite of Passage

By Paul Brisso

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A marvel of a safari is that even when things don’t go exactly as planned or intended, there can be benefits that pay dividends in the future.  Mistakes or mishaps on today’s safari may provide a learning experience that result in future safari success rather than disappointment.

Because even the most seasoned hunter is almost always the least experienced member of the safari team, usually the hunter is the beneficiary of lessons learned the hard way.  However, sometimes the professional hunter learns something new, and even more infrequently, maybe even a highly skilled native tracker on safari experiences something he has never encountered before that will provide insight on a future hunt.

But on my recent safari with Carl van Zyl of John X Safaris, it was Carl’s one-year-old wire-haired terrier, Chili, who was the beneficiary of less than ideal circumstances.

After taking our exceptional Bushbuck in the Komga area, our team traveled about three hours to the Cathcart area to hunt a “right proper Eland” and to use as our home base for pursuit of Vaal Rhebuck.  Our accommodations for this portion of the hunt was Lalapa, operated by Theo and Diana Kemp.

While hunting in the Grahamstown area of South Africa’s East Cape, Carl uses his family’s first class game reserve as his base of operations.  But great trophy quality is Carl’s top priority and depending on the species you’re hunting he may use exclusive lease properties in other areas.  However, when he does, he makes sure his hunters still have exceptional lodging, meals and hosts at the end of the hunting day.

Lalapa was no exception.  Our sleeping quarters were a picturesque rock bungalow duplex in a quiet and remote setting with king bed and separate bath.  The lodge had separate areas for sitting, bar, and dining, but flowed comfortably as an integrated unit. But what really makes Lalapa special are the warmth of Theo and Diana.  I would travel back to South Africa just to share some more time with them at Lalapa again.

Our first day hunting for a “right proper Eland” was on a nearby reserve.  Teresa experienced a different type of hunting than the limited visibility, thick, jungle-like brush where we had hunted Bushbuck.  It was more in keeping with the experience she had expected on her first safari.  We traversed valleys and encountered Waterbuck, Impala and Nyala.  We climbed up ridges and hills and enjoyed panoramic vistas, often observing herds of Black Wildebeest with lone Wildebeest bulls hanging around the fringes. Herds of Zebra, rare Bontebuck and groups of Springbok, were all keenley observed and enjoyed from various vantage points.  We saw a herd of approximately 30 Eland, including several bulls.  One was close to being a “right proper Eland” but we passed (a decision we questioned later that evening at the lodge after a closer look at the video).

As late afternoon faded into early evening, we decided to head for home and resume the hunt for Eland the next day.  As we started to work our way down the mountain where we had ended our Eland search, Carl spotted a bedded lone Springbok.  Having seen a super old loner ram in the area in the past, Carl stopped to give it a closer look.  He confirmed it was the ram he had seen before.  We decided we needed to try to take advantage of this opportunity.

The terrain was very open.  We first thought we could make a long loop around and get within a reasonable range, but by the time we got to our objective the ram had either gotten our wind in the swirling evening breeze or had decided to move off for one reason or another.  After relocating him and some additional stalking, we came up on him at about 150 yards but he was moving away.  Carl kept hoping the ram would stop, but he walked on for some distance before stopping and turning to give an acceptable shot.

It was not a really bad shot.  The ram was a bit further than I thought and I was unfamiliar with the rifle.  I was shooting Carl’s 300 Win Mag Winchester, having left mine at home since we had played tourist for about a week prior to meeting up with Carl for the hunt.  The shot was on-line, but about four inches low.  However, because the vital area of most African antelope is further forward and lower than most North American species, and the relatively small size of the Springbok, four inches low resulted in a broken upper front left leg rather than a good hit or a clean miss.

Like all hunters, I hate not making a clean immediate one shot kill.  Although I was dismayed, I was not discouraged.  The ram was badly wounded, the country was very open and visible, and we had a fair amount of daylight left.  We made another loop to get above and in front of the ram and came upon him again at about 50 yards with one of the few trees in the area between us.  I sighted in for a finishing shot and fired, expecting the ram to drop immediately.  I could not believe it when the ram buckled but did not drop, and took off running again.  My bullet had struck a branch of the tree I did not see in the scope and deflected.

As we had made our loop to intercept the ram Chili, Carl’s year-old wire-haired terrier, still really just a puppy, was tagging along with us.  She had previously participated in baying up wounded game with a more experienced “brother” Bongo, Carl’s Jack Russel Terrier, but had never taken on an animal by herself.  Upon my miss of the attempt to finish off the ram, Carl put Chili on the track. Chili was after the Springbok in a flash and soon had it bayed.  As the African night quickly approached, we made short work of finishing the previously botched job.

As we recovered the downed ram, took photos, and prepared to transfer it from the field, Chili was obviously and rightfully proud of herself.

As we recovered the downed ram, took photos, and prepared to transfer it from the field, Chili was obviously and rightfully proud of herself.

She had completed the rite of passage from puppy to safari hunting dog with flying colors.  Although my shot was less-than-perfect and I wish I had done a better job, my failure gave Chili the opportunity she needed.

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I take solace in the fact that Chili’s experience will no doubt result in the recovery of wounded game on future safaris, to the benefit of the animals that need to be recovered and to the benefit of future hunters who, like me on this day, sometimes fail to make the perfect shot.

For more information and current updates about John X Safaris; follow us on Twitter, connect with us on Facebook, subscribe to our YouTube Channel and visit our Website!

IMG_1284During the month of May, right at the heat of the rut, after the first frost had turned the summer green into a dull yellow, we welcomed a fun bunch of hunters from Texas. The group comprised of our old friends, Steve Travis and Glynn Underwood, as well as first timers, Derrick Ratliff, Luciano Batista, Matt Grim, Sam Stacks, Rolando Rodriguez, and Erik Isacson. Their hunt would be one of our biggest groups for the year taking on everything the East Cape had to offer, from the fleet-footed Klipspringer up in the mountains of the north to the ever diverse plains of the Great Karoo. From the north we headed south to the coast hunting a variety of specialized East Cape species coming away with a great bag of trophies spread across the entire group.

While the trophy photos tell a story of an immensely successful hunt for all involved, they do not capture the full extend of the fun and camaraderie shared among all during the course of this safari. These guys came to Africa to see, taste, touch, smell, and hear her to the fullest each day – living out their experiences as if there was no tomorrow. GTS Productions and their crew joined us on our hunt, fading into the background while capturing this once in a lifetime hunt for all. Enjoy the hunts, the various characters, and the many laughs along the way – These guys were the epitome of fun – They were ‘The Great Texan Invasion”…

For more information and current updates about John X Safaris; follow us on Twitter, connect with us on Facebook, subscribe to our YouTube Channel and visit our Website.

Having met Derrick Ratliff at Dallas Safari Club’s annual Convention during January 2016 we immediately knew we were dealing with a passionate man. Walking up to his Horizon Firearms booth with our good friends, Glynn Underwood (aka “Super Hunter”) and Steve Travis, for the initial introductions, it became very apparent that the man not only knew how to build great firearms, but as importantly build great looking guns. The Horizon Firearms brand most certainly came across as something new and unique to say the least. At the time we had no experience on the guns, and had not seen how they would perform in Africa with the usual questions when experiencing a new product for the very first time.

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Fast forward to three months later and Derrick had touched down in Africa.

Derrick had joined a great bunch of guys from Houston, Texas, forming an integral part of one of our funnest groups of the year. Teaming up with Professional Hunter, Ross “Stix”Hoole, and tracker, Thanduxolo, the guys set out on their quest to conquer Africa’s spiral horned slam and anything else that met their fancy on quality.

The hunting turned out to be nothing short of exceptional with Horizon Firearms passing their first test of Africa with flying colors.

Upon Derrick’s return home he opened his first newsletter for Horizon Firearms with a story titled Epic – Hunting in Africa. We wanted to share extracts from his story, giving you a front row seat to his first hand experiences.

What is epic? Is it a specific trophy animal? The great shot you made? The time around the campfire with buddies? Or is it just the hunt?

To me Epic was a term I learned in South Africa this year. I never really thought about it, but it was a term used a lot by my Professional Hunter (PH) “Stix”, and looking back that really was the only word that could describe Africa.

Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to receive the invite to go with a couple of great customers and friends of mine, Glynn and Steve. If it was not for their persistence and confidence in going with John X Safaris I would not have even considered it. And I would have missed out on a hunt of a lifetime.

It all started back at the Dallas Safari Club Convention, when I had a chance to meet with Carl and Ross “Stix” of John X Safaris. We had a booth there ourselves, and Glynn and Steve convinced me to meet with the John X guys. After one meeting I knew I had to go with them on the trip. I was impressed by their outfit and the confidence they had in the quality of their hunting land, without acting like a bunch of used car salesmen. I knew I could trust them.

Once the trip was officially booked, I was like a little kid counting down the days until Christmas. After months of paperwork, target practice and getting all my gear together, it was finally time to jump the pond. Not only was it my first overnight flight, it was my first international flight traveling with firearms. Man, was that an experience. It was definitely a learning experience and all I can say is that Ann and her crew at Air 2000 were lifesavers! We were in and out of all the checkpoints in about 1/3 of the time of all the hunters that were on our flight. [Side note: Well worth the value of their service, for anyone traveling to Africa contact Ann and tell them Horizon Firearms sent you.]

Once in Johannesburg, we decided to lay low for a day to sleep off the jet-lag before hopping on one more flight to Port Elizabeth. During the hustle and bustle of getting the guns cleared through the police station, we were greeted by Carl and his crew of PH’s. [Side note: It is very nice to have an outfitter that speaks the local African languages well so that you know what is going on when traveling with firearms in a foreign country.]

After the guns were cleared, we loaded our gear into their sweet safari Toyota trucks and headed off for the Karoo. It took us about three hours to get there. Thank goodness I don’t get motion sickness because the South African roads, and the driving on the opposite side of the road, is enough to make your head spin. Once we arrived at camp, we headed out to the shooting range and got everyone dialed in for the morning to come…

The rest of the trip is more than I can talk about in one post. Every day was filled with a new adventure and every evening filled with amazing food and camaraderie around the campfire. In saying this there’s not a whole lot that can really prepare one for the first morning waking up in Africa. 

For now, I will say this: nothing, or no one, can prepare you for that feeling. Everyone will tell you about the mind-blowing diversity, the vast amount of land, the hundreds, if not thousands, of animals you will see – but you won’t believe it. It’s nothing short of EPIC.

GTS Productions joined Derrick on his hunt, capturing all the action along the way. Enjoy his safari with him as he relives those first emotions of Africa.

For those interested in learning more about Horizon Firearms and the great firearms they build, feel free to contact Derrick and his crew on derrick@horizonfirearms.com . Derrick will also be sharing a number of short stories about his trip and any suggestions about traveling to Africa on his Horizon Firearms Newsletter over the coming months. Feel free to follow his stories and suggestions as he plans his return on a second hunt to John X Safaris during July 2017.

For more information and current updates about John X Safaris; follow us on Twitter, connect with us on Facebook, subscribe to our YouTube Channel and visit our Website.

Now in our fourth season of partnering with Gunwerks, the leader in long-range shooting, we at John X Safaris are looking forward to an exciting 10 days of hunting starting as of tomorrow. This year will be a great combination of father and sons, as well as excited first timers to Africa. Joining Gunwerks owner, Aaron Davidson, will be his boys, Danner and Derrec, some old friends and Gunwerks customers, Sultin Kawarit, Mark Simpson, Paul Baird, John Benbow, Bob Phillips, Todd Gardener with sons, John, James, and Todd Jr.

In total, hunters will have the opportunity to hunt over 25 species, ranging from the tiny Blue Duiker to the giant Cape Eland. Long range enthusiasts can expect various challenges from each area, with exciting setups and even greater shots on a daily basis. The hunt will once again be filmed for Gunwerks Long Range Pursuit on the Sportsman Channel.

This year we will be combining our renowned trophy hunting with a large cull quota, giving the guys some serious shooting time on the guns. For those interested in daily updates can feel free to join us on our John X Safaris Facebook page. We will be posting news and pictures of our safari as often as possible.

Opportunities in Africa are like nowhere else on earth – get ready to be amazed by the sheer number of animals, size of the hunting areas, and beauty of Africa.

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We’re off on safari – Catch you in a couple of weeks time!

For more information and current updates about John X Safaris; follow us on Twitter, connect with us on Facebook, subscribe to our YouTube Channel and visit our Website.

By Paul Brisso

When I booked my third safari with Carl van Zyl of John X Safaris for April of 2016, I had two primary objectives in mind.  First and foremost, I wanted Carl to help me introduce my wife Teresa on her first safari to the wonders and experience that makes Africa such a special place. And along the way, I wanted to hunt some animals that I had either not had the opportunity to hunt, or that had eluded me on my prior four trips to southern Africa.

Among these was the Cape Bushbuck.  Although a relatively common animal in much of southern Africa, my first two safaris in Namibia were too far north and west for Cape Bushbuck.  On my first safari with Carl and John X Safaris in South Africa several years before, we came up empty-handed after being outwitted by an exceptional Bushbuck.

On that previous safari, Bushbuck was fairly low on the priority list, to the point where we did not target it until late in the safari.  But on the last morning of the hunt we thought the hunting gods were going to be kind to us.  Glassing from a low ridge, we spotted a great ram feeding below our view-point following two females.  Dropping into the bottom, we worked our way towards the three shy animals, moving slowly and carefully to intercept them.

Everything seemed to go perfectly according to plan.  Mid to late morning we had worked into a location where we had a clear view of an opening along their route.  We set up on the shooting sticks, anticipating they would enter the lane about 80 yards away.  After 10-15 minutes, the first female fed into the clearing from our right, oblivious of our presence.  We could see glimpses of red-brown of the second female and the dark shades of the ram through the heavy brush.  After a few minutes, the second female fed into view, the ram would soon follow. Our excitement levels were building as we could still see glimpses of the ram though the brush heading our way.

“Get ready,” Carl whispered softly.  “Here he comes.”  He never did.  The two females continued feeding on contentedly through the clearing and back into the brush on the other side, oblivious to our much-anticipated ambush.  The ram apparently decided it was time to bed down and turned right, heading back in the direction he was coming from, never setting foot in the clearing.

We decided to pull out and return that evening, the last of our safari.  The wily and lucky old ram did not come out until almost very last light, and then he was too far away for us the get into position before darkness enveloped the bush.  We tipped our cap to our intended quarry and for years Carl and I have talked about the one that got away.

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On my second safari with Carl we headed to Mozambique for Cape Buffalo a couple of years later, where Carl and I got a small measure of revenge on Bushbuck by taking a very nice Chobe Bushbuck on that particular hunt.  But our longing for the one that got away and the continual discussion of it saw our urge for an exceptional Cape Bushbuck grow even more. We made an agreement – The next time we hunted together in South Africa we would prioritize a Cape Bushbuck.

So for my 2016 safari Carl had instructed me to fly into East London, rather than Port Elizabeth, which is nearer to his home base of Lalibela, so that we could pursue Cape Bushbuck in some prime country along the wild coast. Prior to our arrival in East London, my wife and I spent an enjoyable week of viewing wildlife, touring, and adjusting to the time zone difference, before flying from Durban to East London to commence with our hunting. We had purchased the photo safari at the annual California Wild Sheep Foundation fundraiser the prior year, making for a relaxing week as we acclimatized to Africa.

Upon arrival in East London we were met at the airport by John X Safaris head PH, Greg Hayes, whom joined us for a fantastic late lunch at a café overlooking the Indian Ocean, before traveling the 45 minutes to camp at Mpotshane Game Reserve where we met up with Carl.  Since we had done a photo safari first, for the first time I had decided to travel to Africa without my own rifle and use one of Carl’s for the safari.  That afternoon we moved into our room, sighted in the rifle, and settled into the lodge for our first evening.

It rained that night and the weather was still unsettled in the morning, but after breakfast we headed out to an area we would be hunting Bushbuck.  We met up with the landowner and set out in search of a ram.  We had quite an entourage—in addition to Carl, Teresa and me, we had Jose Hernandez doing some video work for Carl, Carl’s tracker, Greg and his tracker, and the landowner.

The country was ideal Bushbuck country—very steep and very thick with vegetation and very light hunting pressure.

The country was ideal Bushbuck country—very steep and very thick with vegetation and very light hunting pressure.

There was no doubt there were Bushbuck on the property that had never seen a human.  On the other hand, there was no doubt there were Bushbuck on the property that was humanly impossible to see.

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We covered a lot of country that morning and set up and glassed openings without success, other than a few females and one young ram.  The weather remained unsettled.  We were so close to Mpotshane that we decided to return for lunch, and then return again later in the afternoon. Sooner or later the weather would lift and the game would start moving.

By early afternoon the weather seemed to be clearing, and we crossed our fingers in the hope that the Bushbuck would be out and about.  We returned and commenced glassing from a spot we could see a substantial amount of country from.  The trackers had been placed on a couple of different points to glass, while the rest of us were together on a spot with a wide panorama.  There was so much country to glass, every set of binoculars focusing on far away ridges and gorges would increase our chances, but things remained slow.

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With the two professional hunters, Jose, the landowner, and me glassing various areas, Teresa—on the first day of her first safari – calmly said “There’s one.”  She had spotted a ram in a small opening on a steep hillside about 250-300 yards away. It was precisely the break we were after. The cooler weather and scattered thunder showers had pushed the animals into the deep cover, but now that the sun was starting to make its appearance again, not even a weary old ram could resist a few warm rays.

Carl quickly confirmed it was not only a ram, but an exceptional ram. We quietly moved into a shooting position a little over 200 yards away across the canyon and I touched off the shot from the 300 Win Mag. As the shot rang out the ram immediately reacted. “You’ve hit him just perfect Paul!” Carl whispered excitedly; “Did you see him jump up into the air and somersault into the brush?” unfortunately I hadn’t seen all of this as the recoil of the gun had obscured my view for a couple of seconds, but that didn’t matter, my shot was true and all indications pointed towards a downed ram.

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Man were we excited when we found him!

Tracking a wounded Bushbuck in that steep and heavily wooded country would have been a challenge beyond words.  Even so, with a confirmed downed ram we still needed a dog to help us find the animal in the thick brush.

Having found our ram was one thing, getting him out was another. Luckily for us we had a strong tracker, Bless, along to pack my ram out of the steep canyon.

With a feeling of content I watched on as Carl and the crew put together the final touches that would immortalize my trophy for the rest of my life. Pictures carry our stories beyond the adventures – Carl and his crew ensures that those pictures are always taken with the utmost care to capture that exact memory.

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I had my Cape Bushbuck!

Back at Mpotshane that evening, we celebrated and toasted our first day success and the skill of our rookie game spotter with cocktails and another great dinner.  The next day we would move on in an attempt to locate what Carl termed “a right proper Eland.”  But that is an entirely different story for another day.

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The month of May saw us welcome back many old faces, with some bringing along new friends to experience South Africa for the very first time. Others joined us for their annual hunt to the East Cape picking up the shooting sticks with old friends as if their previous safaris had never ended. While I am yet to meet a hunter who has not thoroughly enjoyed his safari with us,  nothing quite comes close to the compliment of a returnee. For that individual to choose John X Safaris as his/her choice destination for a second, third, fourth, and in some instances even 9th trip, speaks volumes louder than words.

Dave and Ruth Stark were back on their second hunt with Professional Hunter, Greg Hayes, looking to pursue another Kudu, and then complete their Springbuck slam. They headed up into a newly acquired concession, bagging a number of great animals along the way. Their Lechwe, Cape Eland, and Common Springbuck, proved to be certain highlights on their hunt, as well as the continues pursuit of the kind of Kudu Greg was after for Dave.

The rut was running late, and even with the best planning and optimum moon conditions the bulls just weren’t moving like they usually do at mid-May each year. Never the less Dave came out more determined each morning giving it his all. After having seen numerous shooters the Kudu gods finally won this round, but we are certain Dave will be back to give it another go in a couple of years time.

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With the departure of the Stark’s we welcomed our old Spanish friends from Camino Real Hunting Consultants. Alvaro, Danny, and Roberto, had become great friends while hunting various destinations throughout Asia, Europe, and North America. Their passion for free-range mountain hunting in the wide expanses of the Great Karoo is what drew them to the East Cape on this particular hunt.

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The top priority on this safari would be the manner in which they preferred to hunt. In saying this it wasn’t that it differed from our usual approach, but it took on a greater meaning once one understood their motto; “Don’t turn down what the mountain offers.” 

And they didn’t….

Klipspringer, Vaal Rhebuck, Mountain Reedbuck, and East Cape Kudu, hunted hard each day from dawn to dusk. Having experienced Tanzania previously, neither Danny or Roberto had envisaged the East Cape to offer the diversity and possibilities on free range game and the hunting thereof. With our multi-area greater conservancies in the Karoo we could offer them something they could never have experienced elsewhere in Africa.

With the main priority species having hit the salt we turned our attention to further free range opportunities in the north before heading back south to the coast for the final leg of our trip.

The entire hunt turned out to be a fantastic trip with three great guys, all sharing the same enthusiasm to hunt hard, never turning down what the hunting gods offered. All three were proven excellent marksman, making numerous unbelievable shots throughout their stay with us. But in the end it doesn’t matter how hard you hunt or how well you shoot – it all starts with the hunters attitude, which proved to be the biggest winner of all. Luck will naturally come to those who choose to have fun, but none more so than the luck of a Spaniard hunting two dream pigs within the space of 12 hours.

Felicidades cablleros! Que caceria la que disfrutamos con ustedes!

By the time late May arrived we eagerly awaited John and Lynn Nowlin’s arrival for their 2016 hunt, which would see them embark on their ninth trip with John X Safaris, a special feat for all involved. Having guided them throughout Southern Africa they decided it was time to return to the point of their original “first” experience of the dark continent. This time they would be after a couple of mountain dwellers, with the usual opportunistic favorites being their species of choice. Professional Hunter, Ed Wilson, once again led the hunt in what has become something of a tradition.

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Having hunted a Vaal Rhebuck on a previous safari, the Nowlin’s were game for a second dual in the mountains. This time John hunted a challenging Klipspringer and this amazing 9″ Vaal Rhebuck.

Both John and Lynn made the most of their opportunities on Caracal over hounds, Impala, Cape Bushbuck, Mountain Reedbuck and Warthog, but nothing could come close to the Eland they bumped into on their very last day.

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For one to even start to comprehend the quality of this animal, one has start and end at the mop and dewlap on this once in a lifetime Cape Eland. While we hunt many great bulls each year – this one in particular will take some beating by the time our season gets wrapped up in late October. How fitting an end it proved to be on the Nowlin’s last day of their 9th hunt with John X Safaris. More deserving folks one cannot get – the harder they try, the luckier they keep getting…. the more often they come.

For more information and current updates about John X Safaris; follow us on Twitter, connect with us on Facebook, subscribe to our YouTube Channel and visit our Website!

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