Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Some years ago I wrote the story “Vaalie Obsession”, as many of you would recall I shared my love for pursuing Vaal Rhebuck, the fleet-footed masters of the mountains. At the time of writing that story, I, together with Professional Hunter, Ed Wilson, had come agonizingly close to that magical 10” mark all Vaal Rhebuck hunters strive to achieve. On that particular hunt we had old friends, Brett Nelson and Jeff Edland, testing their wit against one of Africa’s toughest species.

Brett Nelson with his magnificent 9 7/8” Vaal Rhebuck from 2011.

Brett Nelson with his magnificent 9 7/8” Vaal Rhebuck from 2011.

Having “banked” that amazing Vaalie and the experiences that went with it, I continued on in my pursuit, glassing horizon to horizon whenever the opportunity to escape to the mountains presented itself. It was not that I didn’t appreciate the magnitude of Brett’s Vaal Rhebuck, but more the thought of finally hitting that 10” mark. It may be the same drive which sees all Elephant hunters striving for that magical 100 pound tusker, so it was for me, the obsession of finding a 10” Vaal Rhebuck.

Possibly finding what I was after….

It was once again a late season scout that got my excitement levels up. It is strange how often the best is found at the end of the season and not at the start when most of the scouting takes place. 2014 had been a bumper year and a scouting invitation from an old friend and fellow Professional Hunter, Pierre Moolman, sounded like a dream escape into the mountains.

Pierre had guided for my Dad, Rick, at John X Safaris for many years while I was still at school. We had become close friends during those years and continued on in our friendship when Pierre decided to start a safari company of his own some years later. Having shared many a campfire and always thinking along the same lines we were looking at doing something never achieved before. Instead of going after one of the biggest and best Vaal Rhebuck regions on our own, we joined forces and collectively secured what could be considered one of the best Vaal Rhebuck areas in the East Cape – if not South Africa.

DSC_0033

Together we secured just over 50 000 acres of prime Vaal Rhebuck territory, sharing a quota of ten rams per annum. Knowing full well that the success of the area and potential which it held could only be reached via conservation minded longevity, we entered into a long-term agreement with the landowners – committing ourselves to the utmost in not only time, but finances too. Like the saying goes, you get what you pay for.

IMG_7606

With the business side of things handled we set off into the hills. Pierre had told me how fantastic the area was, but nothing could have prepared me for what we found. A Vaal Rhebuck paradise to say the least. In a single day we spotted over 300 Vaal Rhebuck, and barely had enough time to cover a fifth of the area. It left me day dreaming and wishing for 2015 to arrive. I not only wanted to scout the area – I wanted to hunt it. Find what I was after – surely I could cure my obsession with an area that big and a population so dense. The wait was on… 2015 couldn’t come soon enough.

Finding the right hunter…

Having found and secured the right area, it was now time to find the right hunter. Even though it was my obsession to find a 10”, it has never been about me squeezing the trigger. In all the years I’ve never hunted for any trophies myself – it was something my Dad, Rick, instilled in me as a youngster. If a hunter is willing to get onto an airplane somewhere around the world, and is willing to support our livelihoods, then that hunter should have the very best chance at not only experiencing a great safari, but have the opportunity of walking away with the best possible trophies our areas have to offer. The ultimate enjoyment as a Professional Hunter has always been the successes of my clients and the thought of knowing I could get him/her onto something special. That’s what drives me doing what I do day in and day out.

While I guide many fantastic hunters each year, all whom would give anything for the opportunity at an amazing Vaal Rhebuck, very few can be called on at short notice, and without guarantees. I had not found a huge Vaal Rhebuck yet. I had only found a superb area and had a good feeling about its potential. Not many hunters could be called on to book an early season hunt on my gut instinct.

There are however two or three. The first being my old hunting partner, Steve Robinson and his son, Hunter. Both these guys had done their time in the mountains – loved every minute doing it and had been on numerous safaris with me sharing the same Vaal Rhebuck obsession as I do.

_MG_1363

Hunter and Steve Robinson.

Unfortunately Steve was caught up in his Grand Slam of the Sheep of North America, and while I know he would have dropped a sheep hunt to join me, I decided to not offer the hunt to him, as I knew how important the Grand Slam was to him. Africa would still be here after he got his sheep – so I thought it best that he finished his sheep quest while he was so close.

IMG_1293

Eric Arnette.

The second lot of hunters I had in mind were my good friends, Eric and Kristie Arnette, from Texas. The Arnette family have been great friends of ours for many years, and Eric’s love for the mountains have made us great hunting partners. The man is physically a beast, always keeping up no matter how steep the mountain or tall the order. A fantastic Klipspringer hunt some years ago had set off a love for mountain hunting within him, that would see him jump on a plane in a heartbeat, but I felt the notice possibly to short. I knew Eric was extremely busy with business and the opening of his new hot rod shop was keeping him occupied for the time being.

The third hunter was the one I knew I could call on at anytime of the day. A busy man in the business world, but one who may have been able to get away at short notice. I dropped him a message on face book, explaining what I had found and gave him a date option without any guarantees. A couple of minutes later he replied. The hunt was on.

Searching for the elusive 10”….

DSC_0482

My big mate, Luther Dietrich and I, with a hard earned world-class Lynx.

Luther Dietrich and I have become great friends over a goal. He has a desire to hunt the nine main spirals of Africa, and I have a desire to guide all nine, but that’s a very long story for another occasion. What we do have in common, and what brought him into play when it came to this story, is our enjoyment of one another’s company and the passion we share for hunting Africa. The man first introduced to me by none other than Brett Nelson, literally eats, sleeps, and breathes Africa. He most certainly doesn’t have the time in his busy schedule to ‘just”get away, but has the means and desire to make things happen at short notice.

His quest for new areas and exploring uncharted territory, combined with a quiet rivalry between our team and that of Brett Nelson and Ed Wilson, saw him buy into my 10” quest. I wanted to go after the “holy grail” of Vaal Rhebuck, and he believed it could be done. A guide who lived on hope and a hunter who bought into the dream – We make a great team.

Unlike before, we hadn’t actually found a monster, so while the waiting took patience, it was bearable. But I wouldn’t be lying if I said I was relieved to collect Luther at the airport in Port Elizabeth. With him was his good friend, Mark Swanberg, fondly known as, “Swanny”, back on his second hunt with John X Safaris. Swanny too had bought into the idea of hunting a new area, and keenly joined Professional Hunter, Ross “Stix” Hoole.

That very first day we set off for the mountains. It was time to get hunting.

The thing about Vaal Rhebuck hunting is that the mountains always look so daunting from the bottom

The thing about Vaal Rhebuck hunting is that the mountains always seem so daunting from the bottom…

But the view magnificent from the top….

But the view magnificent from the top….

The idea was for us to dedicate as much time as possible to scouting a large an area as possible, making notes on numbers and locations. Where possible, keep track of the sizes of the rams seen and then to take the opportunity if it presented itself. Anything in the 8” class was noted, as well as extremely old rams shorter than 8” in horn length.

A Vaal Rhebuck in the 8” class is well above average and a magnificent trophy – an average we’re extremely proud of as a company. We’ve been keeping it up for ten years now and continue striving to achieve that. Anything between 8”-9” is a no debate shooter, and one heck of a ram. Anything of 9” is considered once in a lifetime, and a 10” like I said before, is the “holy grail” of Vaal Rhebuck hunting. Our plan was quite simple, anything in the 9” class was game on, but anything less than 9” was to be left in the first 3 days. A tall order indeed, but we weren’t here to settle for anything short of magnificent. The guys had made a commitment to us, so Stix and I were going to honor that.

That very first day saw us “finding our feet”, getting a feel for the lay of the land we had not seen during our previous scout.

10380250_10153283722368356_3957413253962075697_o

We found great numbers, but nothing bigger than 7 ½”.

Stix and Swanny did however see a ram they weren’t willing to “share” much information on, only that they’d like to hunt in the same region the following day again. In the hunting world, that tells a story better than the best book ever written – They had found something big.

In any event, Luther and I, together with our tracker, Zwayi, hadn’t found anything worth “lying” about just yet, so we were quite happy to head into another region the following day. By now the competition was rife and we needed to start finding rams that could see us competing at the dinner table that evening.

As Swanny and Stix disappeared into a set of hills at sunrise, we continued up the valley, hoping to find something big. There’s something to be said about a hunters hope and the horizon, it seems the further the horizon and the more ground there is to cover between you and it, the higher the hopes. One always seems to be telling oneself it’s around the bend or over the next hill. There’s always hope when the old beaten track continues meandering up and over the horizon.

Finding the ram…

As luck would have it, or call it poor luck, Zwayi spotted a ram cresting a draw above us. I couldn’t get the spotting scope onto the ram in time, but Zwayi was adamant that we should dedicate some time for a closer inspection. Knowing him the way I do, I trusted his instincts and continued up and over. The minute we reached the top we found a nice group of 11 animals, with a big ram off in the distance. He was busy marking his territory and had left his females momentarily.

Vaal Rhebuck rams are extremely aggressive and territorial, often fighting to the death or chasing a weaker or younger animal to the point of death by exhaustion. I had told Luther about this phenomenon, and we were fortunate enough to see it unfold in front of our eyes a couple of days later.

Having spotted a big ram and feeling excited about that prospect, Zwayi wasn’t entirely convinced it was the same ram he had seen cresting the hill. We continued over onto the next ridge without being detected by the big ram and his females, and then found what I had been searching for, for so long.

To be quite honest, I found him by co-incidence. I’d love to claim that I spotted him out there at a 1000 yards, feeding among’st the sage camouflaged better than anything I’d ever spotted before, but if it wasn’t for the ram Zwayi spotted, we would never have ended up where we were, let alone staring down at a herd of Eland. And need I forget to mention, a gun steel-blue Eland bull is like a moth drawn to a light for me. I saw a big old bull in the valley below and decided to have a better look with my spotting scope, not that I needed the scope to convince me of his qualities. He was a brute, but viewing a brute close up is much more enjoyable through the lens of a spotting scope than wondering about the precise color of his mop on his forehead.

Admiring the beautiful Eland in my scope I noticed something off in the background. A set of ears. Far too small and erected to be that of an Eland. Then another, and another, and then they were piling out of a draw, from what looked like a natural spring. At first there was no ram at all. And then we saw the two figures running out in the distance. A younger ram in the 7” class was chasing a monster for dear life. It was quite obvious what was playing out below us. The big old ram had, had his day and old father time was catching up to him, the youngster was making a move on the old rams’ territory and harem. The cycle of life was catching up to the old boy.

A standoff ensued and the younger rams’ courage got the better of him. He turned and headed off into the distance, sure to be back sooner rather than later, wiser to the old rams’ tricks. It was only a matter of time. The big ram returned to his females and to within 1000 yards. The spotting scope was no longer picking up the wavering heat wave; I was not imagining it anymore.

I’m not sure if the moment got the better of me? But I suddenly had no clue how to judge the ram and determine how big he was. I’d never seen one this big out in the field. And in my spotting scope. Yes, I’ve seen them in books and magazines, but this was different. I stared at him for five minutes, taking in every move he made, studying every angle possible – summing up the challenge.

And then I got up, tried to keep my composure and convince Luther and Zwayi the ram I’d spotted was in the 8 ½” class. I had come to the realization that the ram was not in our concession, he was in the neighbor’s side. How could I break their hearts now? Mine was already shattered.

As I turned and walked back to the truck summing up my various options I caught a glimpse of Zwayi out of the corner of my eye. He was beaming with excitement. I immediately knew he had seen what I had seen, even without the spotting scope he knew what he was looking at, I wasn’t to sure I was ready to admit it to myself. He caught my eye, let out that beaming smile that greets me each morning before the days hunt and started laughing. What the heck?! He’d called my bluff, both he and Luther were part of the team, I had to come clear.

After explaining everything in great depth, and seeing Luther’s excitement, I made it quite clear, I would try my best to convince the neighbor to allow us to hunt the ram, but there were no guarantees what so ever. I also wouldn’t allow him to head back up the ridge to study the ram in the spotting scope, as I would never be able to find something of similar size if we couldn’t get the required permission. Best he didn’t see it. I’d hate him to view a hard hunted 9” ram with disappointment.

The wait, anxiety, and keeping a secret…

Since that first day we had set out a couple of parameters for the hunt, but together with those we had entered into an extremely complicated competition between the two teams. Swanny and Stix were not going to be doing us any favors and the same could have been said about us.

So with us spotting this ram, we knew it would be best if we kept that particular information to ourselves. However, in the meantime we had to continue on searching for more Vaal Rhebuck until I had reached the neighbor and sought the required permission. Even then nothing was guaranteed, this was still Vaal Rhebuck hunting, and it’s pretty tough on the easiest of days. I wasn’t counting on our monster making it any easier with the many years of experience behind his back.

I finally tracked down the neighbors number and tried to call him. In fact I tried reaching him on numerous occasions, only to reach voice mails and busy tones. I sent text messages, and even tried emailing him, hoping to reach him somehow. Having spent another full day looking over more rams on the third day, and some fantastic rams too, we kept hoping with a burning desire that we might have a chance to hunt the big ram. I finally decided the next day we’d drive to the ranch house and try our luck. Not the best etiquette, but desperate times led to desperate measures.

Arriving at the ranch we were met by the local farm manager who proved to be very helpful. He conveyed to us that his master was in Zambia, but that he had a way to reach him. I thanked him profusely and waited to see if he could make contact. A couple of minutes later he informed me the landowner had made contact with him, but that I should wait at the phone as his son would be calling me within minutes. As promised the phone rang and a young guy, similar in age to me was on the other side. We made the usual introductions before coming to the reason for my call and the fact that I was standing in his living room on the farm. I explained the situation in-depth, and in a stern response he declined my request to hunt the ram.

Having seen pictures on the wall in the living room of him being a hunter, I decided to give it another go, explaining what I had witnessed, with the young ram chasing the old ram. Surely I could get him to understand, I was not only willing to pay him whatever he wanted, but my hunter would give the ram the respect it deserved by mounting him in full and proudly showing him off in his trophy room back home. The ram would be immortalized. Mr. Smith, the owner’s son, kindly agreed.

Permission is one thing, hunting a ram of this class is another….

With the required permission granted, I confidently turned towards the mountains. This was it. Or so I hoped deep down.

We had last spotted the ram in the valley with the spring and Eland, knowing Vaal Rhebuck are territorial it was the most obvious place to start. Upon arrival at our previous location on the ridge, we immediately spotted the group. Luther finally got to view him through the scope – The hunt was on.

We would descend around the back side of the ridge we were on, trying to reach the valley floor undetected before cutting back towards where they were feeding. Things were going well until I stepped off a loose boulder and twisted my last good ankle I hadn’t twisted during the course of the week already. I have extremely weak ankles, to the point of where I twist one on most safaris. I’m so used to it now that I can usually shake it off within a couple of hundred yards, but I wouldn’t be lying if I said I was overly irritated with myself. I was paying far too much attention to what was around me than where I was putting my feet in the long grass. Luther kindly took all our gear while I walked it off, it was tender and the terrain steep.

Reaching the bottom of the draw, and just relaxing, thinking we’ve made it to where we should be in range, we suddenly heard that familiar alarm signal from a Vaal Rhebuck. Right above our position, unbeknown to us stood a great ram in the 8” class. Where he had come from was anyone’s guess. Within minutes the monster and his females joined the fleeing ram. Round one to the Vaal Rhebuck 1-0.

We decided it would be best for us to “disappear” into a draw below our position for things to settle down. After an hour I asked Zwayi to head in the direction where the ram had disappeared, while we took up a favorable spot with a great vantage view of where the Vaalies had disappeared to.

A couple of hours passed and still there was no sign of Zwayi or the Vaal Rhebuck. We were about to doze off when suddenly I noticed some white tails bobbing in our direction. They had spotted Zwayi and were making a hastily retreat to their familiar territory. Luther and I lay in wait – ready.

At 400 they settled down and Luther felt comfortable. The 180 grain from the 300 Win Mag would drop as much as 18-20”. The shot rang out, dropping short. With luck the animals had no idea where the shot had come from and continued on – closer in our direction. At 300 Luther knew what he needed to do to correct his previous miss. He touched off the trigger and the bullet flew true. The ram immediately dropped out of sight.

Luther and I literally lost all self control with the excitement! Elated and over-joyed we walked up to our ram.

Reaching 10” and then some….

IMG_7675

The ram was everything I had dreamt of…. and then some. I detest hunting for inches, let alone measure an animal in the field. I respect the game I guide and try to instill that in my hunters. The experience of that hunt and the week leading up to those final moments, the anxiety of those experiences combined with the sweat dripping from the edge of our cap’s, is what pays tribute to the game we hunt. Had he not made the magical 10” mark, would he have been any less of a trophy?

The answer quite obviously is no. Neither Luther, Zwayi, nor I, could care a less if he made it or not. But that doesn’t mean we can’t set ourselves goals to strive to achieve. To test our endurance, patience, and wit against. To give it our best go at achieving something we all bought into, and to sometimes come out on the right side of luck.

He turned out to be 10” and 1/8”, with extremely heavy bases. More impressive than that, was the fact that he barely had two teeth left in his mouth.

He turned out to be 10” and 1/8”, with extremely heavy bases. More impressive than that, was the fact that he barely had two teeth left in his mouth.

As we finished up skinning, leaving the meat behind for the helpful ranch hand whom had assisted so willingly trying to reach the landowner that morning, we sped away down the valley and back towards where we had left Stix and Swanny that morning.

Taking in the moment with our friends….

Catching up with our friends we played it “cool” for a while, radioing in that we had hunted a nice ram, but that I had made a small error in judgment. We were still very happy with our ram, and loved the experience up in the mountains.

Arriving to where Stix and Swanny were enjoying a midday siesta, neither jumped up to have a look in the back of our truck. Conversation continued on about their morning, our morning, and then Stix knew something was up. I was being way to blasé about our ram. Stix walked over to our truck, picked up the caped out skull as if it were a new-born baby, and just stood there in silence.

“I’ve never actually held a 10” in my hands”, he continued. “Neither have I”, I continued. We had both done our fair share of time in the mountains. While Stix may be five years younger than what I am, he had grown up in the mountains too, hunting many Vaal Rhebuck through the years. He understood the magnitude of what we had achieved. It takes more than hard hunting to achieve, it takes years.

Had this ever been done before?

Having shared in our success the guys asked if we would be willing to assist them in theirs. They had spotted a great ram earlier that morning, I suspect the same ram from that very first day. The ram always seemed to stay ahead by a yard or two, twice they had stalked him, each time he had used the same escape route.

Stix and Swanny needed Luther and I to circle up and around the backside of the ridge where the ram had made his escape to each time. They would take the same path as before, but wanted us to show ourselves high above the Vaal Rhebuck. It would keep the animals pre-occupied with us on the ridge while they got into a favorable position. Like clockwork the plan worked.

The ram could hardly keep his eyes off us, but felt comfortable at the distance we had shown ourselves. The minute Stix gave us the thumbs up, we continued down the ridge “stalking” the group. They took off in a flurry coming to a halt within 200 yards of Swanny. And Swanny doesn’t miss within 200.

Swanny with his world-class ram of 9 4/8”.

Swanny with his world-class ram of 9 4/8”.

We had done what few, let alone any of us, could have believed possible. And all within the space of a single day. It was a dream come true – one I’m privileged to claim, “I was there”.

Giving “thanks” where thanks is due…

In closing, when I first started hunting Vaal Rhebuck I was only a young boy, not much older than my own son, Brett. I was very fortunate to have had a Dad that always included me on those hunts, as best he could. May it have been on the back of a truck with the trackers, on horseback, or comfortably snuggled up under his arm in the truck. He recognized a passion in me that I hope to recognize in my own boy someday. For that I am forever grateful – Thanks Dad!

To the many hunters I’ve guided over the course of my short career thus far – thanks for the patience and opportunities provided by you in allowing me to pursue one of my dreams, and ultimately realizing one by having guided this Vaal Rhebuck. Every single one of you contributed to the gaining of valuable experience – Thank you.

To Luther – It wasn’t our first hunt; neither will it be our last together. It was however our first Vaal Rhebuck, and most certainly our last in this class. Thanks for the trust my mate – we got lucky this time!

IMG_1245

As for me, I can sleep with a bit more ease, knowing I’ve got one under the belt. Well, for a little while. Who knows what else may be in those mountains? I can’t wait to get back out there…..

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

IMG_9747 Now in our third 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 morning. Joining Gunwerks owner, Aaron Davidson, will be Garrett Wall, Jesse Stout, Trevor Kruger, Peter Corrado, and Dominic Corrado. Gunwerks taking Africa by storm. In total, hunters will have the opportunity to hunt over 25 species, ranging from the tiny Steenbuck 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 looking at doing an interesting mountain hunt for Vaal Rhebuck and Klipspringer, as well as targeting some of Africa’s spirals. For those interested in daily updates/as we have internet access, join us on our John X Safaris Facebook page. We will be posting 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. Sun 2 We’re off on safari – Catch you in 10 days time!

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

This year saw the return of Max and Pam King once again. Having thoroughly enjoyed their first hunt with Professional Hunter, Greg Hayes, tracker, Bless, and Jack Russel, Jock, they were back to enjoy the diversity of the East Cape, as well as meeting the newest member to the team, Jackson. Thanks to Max we had diverted Greg off naming his new dog “Hammer” – Thank goodness for that!

The plan was for the hunt to start in the north as a Vaal Rhebuck was one of Max's priority species. Unfortunataly, their arrival coincided with our first cold spel of the year.

The plan was for the hunt to start in the north as a Vaal Rhebuck was one of Max’s priority species. Unfortunately, their arrival coincided with our first cold spell of the year.

Never the less, the guys kept at it, seeing a number of Vaal Rhebuck whenever the weather gave them the slightest chance.

DSC00710

And when it finally did give them an opportunity they got lucky on a great old ram.

Having spent a couple of days in the north, the safari headed back south to warmer weather and a baited Bushpig that would gain legendary status by the time the safari came to an end.

The pigs were feeding beautifully night after night during the month leading up to Max’s hunt. The ground work had been done. The pigs were on bait and a blind was built. All it would take from here on wards was a bunch of patience and a little bit of luck.

Past experience had told us, get into the blind early and wait - The guys did exactly that.

Past experience had told us, check your lights, get into the blind early, and wait – The guys did exactly that.

Night after night the guys headed to the blind. And each evening the sow and her piglet’s would come in to feed, giving the hunters enough action to keep their appetites going.

MOULTRIE DIGITAL GAME CAMERA

The boar not once came in with the sow and piglet’s, and when he did our cameras would catch him in action, feeding tentatively, as if he knew something was up.

Realizing this particular boar was somewhat of a “Chevy with different hub caps”, Greg and Max started looking around more and more each evening. Surely he wasn’t far? Soon they noticed the big old boar in the shadows beyond the feeding frenzy. He would pace up and down, but never dared enter the area under the feeder, where a dim red light was lighting up the outlines of the various pigs feeding contentedly. He had been happy to feed under the light all month-long, but now trusted his sixth sense.

Between their nightly vigils the crew kept their score ticking over each day, enjoying a number of good hunts in some beautiful country.

Then each evening, as the previous, they would head back for a rematch with the smartest Bushpig in Africa. And each evening they’d retire back to camp when all were worn out and done, having given it their best shot.

With the Bushpig hunting dominating proceedings it was decided that a break would be the best cure for two despondent hunters and a smart Bushpig. It was possibly the best approach after going at it that hard.

An afternoon duck shoot sounded like a welcome break.

An afternoon duck shoot sounded like a welcome break.

The birds came in hard and fast, giving us a great shoot right up until dark when all we could was hear them hitting the water with nothing to aim at. An enjoyable afternoon was enjoyed by all to say the least!

The birds came in hard and fast, giving us a great shoot right up until dark when all we could hear was the ducks hitting the water with nothing to aim at. An enjoyable afternoon to say the least!

On the second last evening of their safari, having sat in the blind for a fifth night, and still no pig to show for their efforts, Max dully summed up the match; “5-0 Retired hurt.”  They had given their all and then some. Committed and dedicated to the point of obsession right to the end.

And then on our last evening, while we were enjoying one another’s company toasting our friendship and the safari that had been, our fury friend decided to rub further salt into battered wounds….

Of course he'd come, joining the rest of his group at 18:45, like clock work old sport!

Of course he’d come, joining the rest of his group at 18:45. “Like clock work old sport!”- Max would say.

His sixth sense had won him not only the day, but the entire match.

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

Cape Mountain Zebra pictured by Chris Petersen in the Cape Mountain Zebra National Park.

Cape Mountain Zebra pictured by our good friend and photographer, Chris Petersen, in the Cape Mountain Zebra National Park.

Why would a safari outfitter, such as John X Safaris, decide to invest in a species that is currently only exportable to a handful of countries around the world, and more importantly not permitted into the United States as of 1 May 2015? As matters stand at present, our largest market is American, and we are in the business of hunting. It makes no sense that any budget should be allocated towards something not available to the vast majority of our hunters – right? Wrong!

But let’s start at the beginning… long before the conservation success story in South Africa today.

_J0C2814

The Cape Mountain Zebra, though never numerous, formerly inhabited the mountain ranges of the Eastern and Western Cape of South Africa. By 1922 it was believed there were as little as 400 individuals left in the wild.  When in 1936, the population had reached a critical decline to a mere 80 individuals, the Minister of Land, Jan Kemp, was asked to set aside a special reserve for the Cape Mountain Zebra, he gave his now infamous reply: “No! They’re just a lot of donkeys in football jerseys.”

Then during late 1937 in response to the continued decline in the population, the government established the Cape Mountain Zebra National Park near Cradock, in the Eastern Cape, as well as two further protected areas in the Kammanassie and Gamka Mountains. Unfortunately the Cape Mountain Zebra National Parks’ small population of Zebra died out by 1950, leaving the park at the hands of remnant populations which were introduced into the park that same year. Eleven animals were donated from nearby farms, and in 1964 another small herd was added.

By the late 1960’s, the total Cape Mountain Zebra population was only 140, but grew to 200 by 1979, with 75% of the animals in the Cape Mountain Zebra National Park. In 1984, the population was back to 400 head. As the population grew and flourished under the protection of the state, excess numbers were trans-located and introduced into the Cape Point section of the Table Mountain National Park and the De Hoop Nature Reserve in the Western Cape, SA.

As the private game sector grew, so it too started purchasing available numbers from the protected state parks, playing a crucial role in the successful conservation of the species. The number of privately owned sub-populations has doubled over the last two decades, which has increased the available habitat and distribution of the species within their historic range.

In 2009 a survey was commissioned by the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa (PHASA), to specifically identify all privately owned sub-populations, and to determine the status of animals in private hands. It was established that these sub-populations were flourishing as a third of the population existed on private land,nearly 900 individuals of a total 2790, with a number of privately owned herds boasting numbers greater than 50 individuals. A remarkable feat when one considers the complicated family dynamics and structures in a group, combined with the slow reproduction rate of the species.

Today the population is estimated at around +-3850 individuals and are now listed as Vulnerable by the World Conservation Union (IUCN red list category and criteria C1 2008) instead of ‘Endangered’, as before. Things are most certainly looking up for the Cape Mountain Zebra population.

So on 1 May 2015, John X Safaris together with our great friend, Niel Schoombee, through hard-earned hunters dollars, were able to become proud owners of 8 Cape Mountain Zebra. The Zebra were bought from a fellow private game owner, Dale Cunningham, in the Grahamstown district, and were trans-located to Niel’s property, Ventershoek, in the Great Karoo.

It was an exciting day of game capture, with a professional team from iNyathi Game Services, headed up by experienced helicopter pilot, Dawie de Klerk, and wildlife veterinarian, Dr William Fowlds.

IMG_7870

We first started out the morning capturing Bontebuck for a fellow buyer.

The Bontebuck, probably one of the most successful stories in a rich history of conservation in South Africa , had fetched record prices at our recent Great Frontier Game sale, ensuring its future is looking as bright as ever, as it continues on its path of recovery.

The Bontebuck is probably one of the most successful stories in a rich history of conservation in South Africa. It had fetched record prices at our recent Great Frontier Game sale, ensuring its populations future is looking as bright as ever, as it continues on its path of recovery.

Once the Bontebuck were captured, loaded, and on their way, we were off to locate the two predetermined family groups of Cape Mountain Zebra we had purchased.

The Zebra would be spotted from the air, before diving down with the helicopter and getting within range for Dr. Fowlds to make the necessary shot with a dart gun, tranquilizing the animals.

Once tranquilized, the ground crews would rush in to meet Dr. Folwds checking up on each animal, before getting the Zebra loaded onto the compartmentalized truck that would be transporting the animals to Niel.

Upon loading Dr. Fowlds and his crew jumped to work doing a thorough check on each animal. A combination of drugs would be used to create a sedative “cocktail” which would minimize the stress on the animals during their journey north.

Dale having been one of the pioneers of DNA testing in the East Cape soon jumped to work too.

Blood was drawn and microchips were planted on each animal as to ensure identification as to ensure identification in the future.

Blood was drawn and microchips were planted on each animal as to ensure identification in the future.

The blood samples would be sent away to Dr. Desire Dalton, who would do the DNA checks and issue both Dale and us a report of her findings. The information would be logged on a DNA registry, which intern will provide valuable information in the future, ensuring none of this groups gene pool had been contaminated by any other Zebra.

A couple last checks on the loading was done, and then they were off to their new home!

A couple last checks on the loading was done, and then they were off to their new home!

The journey would be a hard one for both the animals and crews involved. It is a stressful part of the process for the owners, as the animals may be sedated and are not aware of their surroundings ensuring they exert very little stress, but animals will remain animals – one never knows what to expect.

IMG_8001

Zebra are some of the hardest game to transport as they kick and bite with devastating results, let alone getting the loading configuration right for the journey. Loading a particular Zebra fowl with a mare that may not be its mother, would result in a dead fowl by the time they got to the other side. The incorrect stallion with a mare or group in a compartment can lead to devastation – Like I said before, Zebra are complicated creatures.

Luckily for us we had a wealth of game experience combined on the day, ensuring a smooth trans-location and the successful release of 8 Cape Mountain Zebra with Niel on the property, Ventershoek. They would now take a couple of months to truly settle down before choosing which valley or mountain to call home. After that we hope for many fowls as each spring passes, year by year. The seed to success has been planted.

An Important Day in the Conservation Success Story of South Africa….

Looking towards the future, the hypocrite in you may continue asking the question I posed above, how could it possibly make sense investing in something this expensive when the results to success are not guaranteed?

Neither Niel or I, will ever be able to predict when the US Fish and Wildlife will decide to allow the importation of Cape Mountain Zebra into that country by its citizens. The process underway by the various authorities is believed to be a lot closer than ever before. Not taking away anything from any other international hunter, it will however be a watershed moment in the further success of the specie if the US were to lift the importation ban.

While some may question the motives of our investment, consider it no different to your business you work so hard at every day, no one wants to see their investment lose value or fail. It’s called sustainability. It has been the driving force behind the most successful conservation story on the planet, and continues to develop in various ways to ensure its sustainability. May that sustainability be achieved via hunting, viewing, trading, or ranching, as long as people see value in the specie, its protection will be ensured. And that after all is what every conservationist, no matter what your stance or belief is, is after.

In saying this, there is a further responsibility, far less complicated than the economic ways of the world. Imagine if the pioneers of our success had rested with Jan Kemp’s infamous reply in 1936; “No! They’re just a lot of donkeys in football jerseys.” We would not have enjoyed the privilege we enjoyed on 1 May 2015.

IMG_8018

Both Niel and I, took responsibility by involving our boys, Wickus and Brett, creating a love for wildlife from an early age.

In doing so we hope to ensure that they too will continue in the sustainability of the conservation success story of South Africa for generations to come. Here’s to the Cape Mountain Zebra and the people who had a vision back in 1937!

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

??????????????????????????????? The efforts of SCI, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the National Rifle Association and others met with success on April 23, 2015 when Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reversed their decision to implement changes to the procedural requirements for hunters and recreational shooters wishing to travel abroad with their firearms.

At a budget hearing held before the House Committee on Appropriations, R. Gil Kerlikowske, Commissioner of CBP, announced that the agency would temporarily return to the paper process used for years by international hunters and recreational shooters.

In response to questions posed by members of the Committee, Mr. Kerlikowske explained that CBP would temporarily withdraw its requirement that hunters and shooters, who wish to take their firearms out of the country, register their firearms in the Automated Export System (AES).  Mr. Kerlikowske informed the Appropriations Committee that CBP would be modifying its website later in the day to reflect this change in position.  Please refer to this link for additional information about the hearing.

SCI will continue to pursue a long-term solution to this issue.  While this decision provides only a temporary fix to a broader concern.  The recently proposed (and just aborted) changes to the exportation of firearms comply with regulations, adopted in 2012, that require electronic registration.  SCI is working with NSSF, NRA and others to propose revisions to these problematic rules.

John X Safaris will continue to keep all updated as SCI / Dallas Safari Club share information with us. In short, all you now require for traveling from the USA, as in the past, is the US Customs 4457. Any parties interested in obtaining a copy can do so by following the link, http://www.johnxsafaris.co.za/traveling-with-rifles-south-africa

Thanks to all who have kept us updated throughout this process, it’s greatly appreciated. To those whom were facing this daunting task, relax, it’s a thing of the past for the time being. We look forward to your safari and having you out in Africa.

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

Imagine the amazed look from a bunch of guides when posed with the question; “Looks like chicken, shaped like football – Will fly…” What could it be, asked Bo Friman? With puzzled expressions we listened further to his description before realizing he was referring to a Guinea fowl.

Football Chicken

Bo had never seen a bird like this before, let alone ever set foot in the African wilderness. As comical as his description may have been to all present, it set the tone for one of the most enjoyable safaris in years.

Sharing Africa with friends….Scandinavian Style!

The first time we met Bertil Friman we knew there was something distinctly different about the man. To be quite honest, we had our doubts about his motives on that very first safari six years ago. Unlike most hunters, he didn’t make contact via email. A call out of the blue from a stranger in Sweden, a couple of matters of interest were discussed briefly, and then a deposit a mere two hours later. That’s all it took.

Well…. in the safari world things don’t run that smoothly. Something was up – it was too good to be true! After much debate back at camp we finally came to the conclusion that this guy had to be the “paparazzi” or something. What you must understand, at the time there were numerous rumors of European broadcasters going after the safari industry in Africa. Hunting and hunters were under attack in a big way, and while there weren’t any concerns on the legality of the hunt, we weren’t planning on making headlines on a “green” channel.

In any event, Bertil arrived for that first hunt, and we paired him up with Professional Hunter, Juan MacDonald, and our Mexican, Jose Miguel. Under strict instruction they marched him up mountains and down mountains – if he was not who he claimed to be, his colours would show sooner or later. On the third day, we received a call from Juan; “This guy’s the real deal – he’s a true hunter.”

Bertil 1

Needless to say from that moment on Bertil Friman, his wife Eva, and daughters, Jennie and Camilla, have become more a part of our John X family than we could ever have imagined. We have shared weddings, Christmas’s, hunts in Africa and Europe, and even surprise visits to Las Vegas.

Each year since we have seen Bertil return for his annual hunt, enjoying time away from home at his African home.

year saw Bertil inviting a number of friends for his visit to the East Cape.

This year saw Bertil inviting a number of friends for his visit to the East Cape.

It was to be more than just a hunt. It was to be an introduction of his passion for Africa, its wildlife, culture, and people – It was to be his way of sharing Africa with friends.

Arriving at camp that first afternoon saw the group settle in and relax around the lodge as they acclimatized to the warm African conditions of March.

Knowing our ever popular barman, Ncethi, it didn't take long before the fun and games began.

Knowing our ever popular barman, Ncethi, it didn’t take long before the fun and games began.

The following morning we were up early heading north to the Great Karoo. With the odd pit-stop along the way!

Later that afternoon we checked the guns at the range and split into our various teams for the hunt. Goran and Leif with Greg, Benny and Bo with Stix, Bertil and Inje with Carl, Fridthjof and Gunnar with Martin, and Hans with Rusty. The guys weren’t to concerned with what they hunted, but more so the enjoyment of being out in the field and experiencing Africa for the very first time. For many of them it was to be their first hunt in decades while others had never hunted before.

???????????????????????????????

Many of the “first timers” truly impressed throughout the hunt while some of the old faces such as Benny, Bertil, and Fridthjof, made the most of their opportunities.

During the course of the hunt the guys took part in our culling program, assisting in building better genetics for the future.

The specie in focus was East Cape Kudu from one of our northern areas.

The specie in focus was East Cape Kudu from one of our northern areas.

Over time the population had shot up during the good years causing an over-population on the 20 000 acre concession. Over-population combined with dry years saw tannin levels rise in the vegetation, causing stunted growth in both body and horn. A strict culling policy whereby poorer genetics are selected and removed from the population, and replaced by fresh blood can see an area recover in as little as 7-10 years. A number of “genetically inferior” Kudu were hunted by the group with some of the hunts turning out to be more challenging than expected. Keep in mind old “Murphy’s law” would see the group bumping great bulls all safari long, while all they were after were the poorer bulls.

In total eight bulls were culled by the group, ensuring there’s eight less Kudu of poorer genetics breeding during the upcoming rut starting in the next week or so.

That combined with the fact that we arrived to a dry Karoo and left it with storms on the horizon and flooding in its rivers, sees things looking up for this recovering Kudu population.

With time running out and the safari drawing to a close we ended back at Lalibela for a couple of days of rest and relaxation. Some of the guys made the most of a couple last hunts in neighboring concessions, while the photographers made hay while the sun shone, enjoying the last bit of Africa that Bertil had always wanted to share with them.

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

As with previous years, the early season produced some fantastic hunts and phenomenal trophies yet again. This year saw a change in guard for the first time in over ten years. It would not be Brett Nelson and his crew making the most of the rested areas and beating all to the first hunt of the season, but our good friends Jarod Wallace, Chris Ashcroft and Bwana Big Jim Smith.

IMG_7291

It may have been fate that brought us all together on February 28th, 2015 – who knows? Some things are just meant to be. Big Jim, Chris, and Jarod had joined us on safari during early May of 2014, and weren’t set to return again until 2016.

On that particular hunt Jarod was after a Cape Buffalo, together with a host of plains game. While he enjoyed tremendous success on a variety of plains game, it would be early mornings and long days stalking Cape Buffalo in our coastal forests with his bow that would captivate him most. With time running out on that hunt, he together with his trusty PH, Ross, came across a very impressive Cape Buffalo bull.

Bad Attitude

The bull was everything Jarod had dreamt of… he had the mass, drop, and spread. Only one small hick-up – The bull was not on quota. So they sat silently watching him walk out of bow range.

That evening both Jarod and Ross pondered over the days events – wondering how they would ever get the opportunity to hunt a bull in that class? It would have to be fate….

As early December 2014 rolled along, Ross and I were wrapping up final preparations for our trip to the US, when I mentioned to Ross that we would be seeing Jarod and friends in Eagle Mountain, UT, during January, and that we should check our Buffalo quota for that particular area where Jarod watched his dream bull walk a mere 7 months earlier. With one thing leading to another we finally received confirmation of one Buffalo on quota for 2015 – There was no guessing who would have first option on the hunt.

Of course Jarod was never going to turn it down – let alone miss the opportunity of returning to Africa within a year of his first safari. Having experienced the “group” safari atmosphere on his first hunt, he wasn’t planning on returning alone, and kindly invited both Chris and Bwana Big Jim along.

The boys were pretty excited to be a part of Jarrod's Cape Buffalo hunt - let alone sink their teeth into a couple of hunts of their own!

The boys were pretty excited to be a part of Jarod’s Cape Buffalo hunt – let alone sink their teeth into a couple of hunts of their own!

With a couple of months of preparation we had configured a great plan, allowing both Jarod and Ross to be concealed under a hollowed out Acacia tree. The cover would prove sufficient for the guys to go undetected, but if the prickly thorns would deter a herd of grumpy Cape Buffalo from investigating anything out of the ordinary – that would remain to be seen.

As luck would have it, the guys got an arrow into the unaware bull at first light, coming in to drink and then feeding a mere 18 yards away. Having never hunted a Buffalo with a bow before, none of us knew how the bull would react? And in true Cape Buffalo form he took an arrow perfectly placed behind the shoulder and ran off 80 yards before coming to a sudden halt in wonder of the bee that had just stung him. The guys were certain the placement was perfect, yet the bull showed no signs of weakening.

And then suddenly he turned away from the herd and disappeared into the undergrowth. All this time to bull still showed no signs of weakening, but his behavior suggested something was up. We gave the bull another two hours before the guys started tracking him in the thick undergrowth. There was blood – but not enough to confirm the fatal blow. After a couple of hundred yards the blood all-together dried up, and 5 hours later we called it a day. The bull had broken cover twice – a charge was imminent, that was to be expected, but if it was to be the last stand, best we did it in better light.

That evening around the campfire we discussed the arrows placement in great depth – all aware of the danger that loomed the next morning. A decision had to be made, and a mature one at that too. It was time to put away the bow and take up a trusty 375 H&H – it was not only the safest option in our situation, but the right one too. It is not only our responsibility as Professional Hunters to keep you safe, but to honor the game we hunt by ensuring a clean kill, and when things do not turn out as planned, to ensure a speedy follow-up kill.

That next morning the guys did exactly that! Jarrod had hunted a dream bull with his bow on his terms and then honored the bull by a well placed heart shot. He had the bull he had so long dreamn't about!

That next morning the guys did exactly that. Jarod had hunted a dream bull with his bow on his terms and then honored the bull by a well placed heart shot. He had the bull he had so long dreamt about!

After further investigation it was noted that the arrow had hit a rib and broken off, finally working its way out during the night. The penetration was far too little to prove fatal, and all involved learnt a great lesson on heavy boned big game with a bow.

The rest of the day was spent working away the mass of meat, ensuring the cape got into the salt and every inch of meat and bone, including the hooves, intestines, and organs, was used as a source of protein by the local population.

The following morning we were up at sunrise and off to the wild coast to pursue the ever elusive Cape Bushbuck.

Our home for the next four days would be the "Camp on the Krantz" (Camp on the Cliff).

Our home for the next four days would be the breath-taking “Camp on the Krantz” (Camp on the Cliff).

For Chris and Jarod it was all about pursuing Cape Bushbuck with their bows, while Bwana Big Jim just goes with the flow, hunting anything truly great he and his longtime PH, Greg Hayes, stumble upon.

Professional Hunter, Martin Neuper, a new member to our team would join Carl and Chris, showing off some of his neck of the woods, enjoying a heap of home-ground advantage. Having grown up with a bow in his hand and a Cape Bushbuck not far off his 30 yard pin, we knew we were in for something special.

And that very first afternoon of walk and stalk Martin put Chris onto a ram at 27 yards.

And that very first afternoon of walk and stalk Martin put Chris onto a ram at 27 yards.

To say that the entire crew back at camp looked at us with envy that evening would have been the understatement of the safari! It seemed all were suddenly rising earlier than discussed and every member of every team looked more determined than ever. It was officially game on!

Chris, Martin, and I, headed off into the high country in search of Cape Eland, while Greg and Bwana Big Jim weren’t being completely truthful about their plans for the day or what they had seen the previous afternoon. Ross and Jarod would head back to a newly built blind – one that seemed promising with plenty of activity from the day before.

Knowing Bwana Big Jim the way we’ve come to know him, and knowing all too well he and Greg make a dream team on the worst of days – we should have seen the signs of confidence that morning – it’s not that they ever commit to anything in particular, but its the manner in which they bring quality to the shed.

And they always do... this time with a world-class 52'' East Cape Kudu!

And they always do… this time with a world-class 52” East Cape Kudu.

Jarod and Ross on the other hand were baking their brains in a bow blind at 110F – only to earn a big Baboon with the bow – a truly tough feat. Those who’ve tried this will vouch for it!

Up in the mountains the air was cool and a steady south-western breeze would ensure the remainder of the day would remain pleasant as cool air would be pushed from the ocean onto the escarpment. We literally spotted large herds of Eland from the word go, seeing numerous great bulls, until our eyes came to rest on a herd of +-80 animals. It’s not everyday that one gets to see so many Eland within a 360 degree view, but when one lays eyes on something you search for, for so long, there’s no mistaking it’s a monster when not even I make sense to myself anymore.

IMG_7497

I would have hated to have been Chris listening to nervous, yet excited instruction from myself and Martin, hardly able to contain our child-like excitement. Then on the other hand… I would have given anything to have been Chris to have hunted the Eland of a lifetime.

He had everything. The sweep in horn like a Lord Derby, a dewlap that saw him strain his neck with every step he walked, and a mop so rich in color - a combination of color that words cannot describe.  Hi sheer size was beyond impressive, while his gunsteel blue made him a candidate for for one of my  all-time  favorite Eland.

He had everything. The sweep in horn like a Lord Derby, a dewlap that saw him strain his neck with every step he took, and a mop so rich in color – a combination that words cannot describe. His sheer size was beyond impressive, while his gun steel-blue made him a candidate for one of my all-time favorite Eland.

And then as if it couldn’t get any better the Bushbuck came out in hordes on our last day….

First Chris...

First Chris with his heavy horned 15 1/2”….

And then Jarrod with a whopping 15 3/4'' ram!

And then Jarod with a whopping 15 3/4” ram!

With time running out we packed up our gear, loaded the dogs, skins, skulls, trackers, and ourselves, and headed back to Lalibela for our last evening around the campfire.

IMG_0023

Each and everyone had enjoyed their time together, once again reminded of the camaraderie we as hunters share.

Fate? Or coincidence? I’m not to sure it was either. When it comes to our great friends from Eagle Mountain in Utah, it’s not that we need much of an excuse to get-together in Africa…

IMG_7367

Like I said before… Some things are just meant to be….

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

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 356 other followers

%d bloggers like this: