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#GunWerked

While out on safari up in the high country with Gunwerks owner, Aaron Davidson, during our 2015 safari, the topic of having a Gunwerks rifle in camp came up once again. Having witnessed the class and precision of their rifles, combined with an amazing user-friendly shooting system that simplifies the complicated science of long-range shooting, the matter of getting my very own Gunwerks rifle to Africa became a goal for 2016.

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With the help of Aaron and Garrett I picked out my choice gun during SCI’s annual Convention in Las Vegas – My gun was finally coming home to Africa.

Welcoming back the crew and my Gunwerks rifle to Africa

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As late July rolled in so too did Aaron with his sons, Danner and Derec Davidson, as well as Gunwerks customers, John Benbow, Sultan Kawarit, Paul Baird, and the Gardiner family.

For Aaron it would be a traditional return joining me on safari for what has become a highlight in my calendar each year. Knowing each other so well and enjoying so much of the same, we have built an enjoyable friendship through our adventures and time on the show circuit each year.

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This years hunt would prove to be a special one, as together with him, he brought his sons, Danner and Derec, for their first taste of Africa.

Some torrid cold conditions put the boys through their paces on the first few days up in the Karoo, but credit to them as they stuck it out and soon started mastering challenging conditions overhead. From huddling around a small camp fire with the trackers trying to keep out of the snow and cold, to blistering winds, and finally beautiful sunny days, giving the boys a bit of everything Africa could throw at them. And when it turned the boys turned up the heat with some world-class shots!

Of course Aaron got in on the action too, but it was not until we got back south to the coast that he and I finally found the kind of Warthog we’d been after for many years. It all kind of happened by sure coincidence, but we’ll take our luck everyday of the week! On previous safaris we had always concentrated on numerous species, with a Warthog never proving to be a priority. Over time a pig became somewhat of a priority, and more so – a big pig.

We had passed up a number of shooters over the years, but this time there was no second guessing.

We had passed up a number of shooters over the years, but this time there was no second guessing. A “Boss Hog” finally hit the salt!

Aaron’s Warthog proved to be his final trophy of the hunt, while the boys continued on in style harvesting Cape Bushbuck, Warthog and Zebra. Both the shots on the Cape Bushbuck and Warthog were fantastic setups with great natural shooting platforms due to the nature and the lay of the land, while the Zebra on our last day allowed the boys to get in close, once again proving the versatility of the Gunwerks system.

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While Aaron and the boys were enjoying every minute of their family hunt, so too was first timer John Benbow who joined the crew teaming up with Professional Hunter, Dave Burcy. John and Dave hit it off from day one going about their hunt in a quiet way, bringing home pretty loud trophies each evening.

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Each morning they’d head into the hills…

And each evening their quality spoke for itself…

It seemed this team had a trick up their sleeve each time someone else brought in something really good. What has become tradition over the years, has seen the team of Professional Hunters choose the best trophy hunted during the Gunwerks safari each season. The criteria is not set in stone, but the specie/animal hunted must carry the attributes of a gold medal class animal for that particular specie.

And so it came as no surprise that John hunted the trophy of the safari - A magnificent 43" Sable.

And so it came as no surprise that John hunted the trophy of the safari – A magnificent 43″ Sable.

Sultan Kawarit had previously hunted the East Cape, but this would be his first taste of what John X Safaris has to offer.

Sultan had previously hunted with PH, Martin Neuper, and was ecstatic to hear that Martin had joined our team, once again teaming up for another safari.

Sultan had hunted with PH, Martin Neuper, before and was ecstatic to hear that Martin had joined our team.

The two of them set out to not only tackle a variety of plains game, but a couple of mountain dwellers too. On Sultan’s previous safari he had hunted a number of species, so this time round he was after not only variety, but quality too. He had arrived at the right destination. The quality of Sultan’s trophies speak volumes of our areas, while the experiences provided by Martin will be lasting memories for both of them.

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There was however one particular hunt that will never be forgotten by all involved. The guys were after Klipspringer and had headed into the hills with a lunch pack for the day.

By mid-morning they had found a couple of pairs, but a heavy mist with sleet rain blew in from the north, covering them in a blanket of white and cold.

By mid-morning they had found a couple of pairs, but a heavy mist with sleet rain blew in from the north, covering them and the Klipspringer in a blanket of white and cold.

For three hours they held their position having identified a shooter ram. When the weather blew over the ram provided a shot at 480 yards.

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What a shot – What an effort – What a memory!

Sultan’s hunt proved to be a massive success with his Cape Eland over 1100 yards being one of the best and longest shots of the safari. While Sultan was pushing hard providing a competitive challenge to the rest of the hunters, it was Paul Baird, hunting with PH, Greg Hayes, and the Gardiner family guided by PH, Rusty Coetzer, that left us amazed.

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Paul was the first and only man whom we have ever seen taking long-range shots off standing sticks, and doing so successfully time and again. His confidence was a treat to observe – it’s hard not to admire a man who puts in that kind of practice and then to enjoy his success with him when the results pay off.

As for the Gardiner family consisting of Todd Sr, Alex, Gabriel and Todd-Gerald – these guys had very little to no experience with the Gunwerks system, let alone any long-range practice prior to their arrival. Their success and the speed at which they gained confidence once again proved why Gunwerks remains one of the best, if not the best, system in the long-range market.

With this being their first hunt to Africa – a great occasion to say the least – they booked GTS Productions to capture their experiences on film. Enjoy the journey with them and relive the emotions of what proved to be an exciting ten days with John X Safaris.

#GunWerked during 2016

It seems the more we use, enjoy, and hunt with the Gunwerks system, the more we take for granted. It has become the norm to accept that every single last Gunwerks rifle that has ever joined John X Safaris on a hunt has far exceeded our and our hunters expectations in not only precision results, but rewarding experiences for those who have had the privilege to shoot these amazing rifles. The fact that a seasoned long-range hunter or a beginner such as myself can achieve a certain level of success within a limited period of time speaks volumes for the system. That alone is a remarkable feat by Aaron and his entire team at Gunwerks, and for that they need to be congratulated.

I see the new #tag sporting the waves reads #GunWerked – Let’s rephrase that to #GunWerked2011,  #GunWerked2012,  #GunWerked2013,  #GunWerked2014,  #GunWerked2015  … And I can assure you #GunWerked once again in Africa during 2016. Take my word for it, I’m not merely guiding hunters enjoying the system – I’m shooting my very own Gunwerks 7 mm LRM.

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!

When we first set out to launch our foundations mission for 2016, it was probably one of the greatest unknowns I’ve ever taken on within the safari industry. The questions mulling over in my head and the fears of launching a successful program felt more daunting than my first Cape Buffalo hunt. While the John X Foundation has been supporting a number of worthy initiatives and causes over the past five years, this one seemed closer to home. It was my brainchild, something I had been quietly thinking about for a number of years ~ I knew my passion and the unrelenting support from my team would ensure success, but this was still a first for all of us.

Counting down the days and then the arrival at Orange Grove Adventures… The first Jr Hunters Course

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Having raised the necessary funds through the support of our generous hunters, whom we cannot thank enough, we plotted and planned every detail of the course with Patrick Cairns. Trish jumped to work on sourcing the various items of clothing, toiletries, and food requirements. Greg, Stix and I covered the various topics of the course with Patrick, while Ozzie and Jose from GTS Productions worked on the script of how we would be sharing this very first Jr Hunters course with the rest of the world.

The months soon turned to days and before we knew it we were unpacking the trucks at Orange Grove, Tarkastad. With us we had eight shy boys from various backgrounds and communities – all linked to the safari industry in one way or another.

At first I wasn’t sure who was more nervous than the other? Patrick had warned me of something I had never considered when the idea first came to mind. While most of us grew up “wanting” to hunt or have been introduced to hunting at a young age, and would have given anything to have been accepted to a Jr Hunters course at age 13/14, none of these boys from our previously disadvantaged communities had ever hunted before. They understood the concept, but not a single boy had ever held a gun in their lives! Did they even want to be here I kept asking myself. Was it my “want” for them to be here? Or was I being overly ambitious in my concept?

If you don’t dare you cannot succeed….

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Nelson Mandela once remarked; “If your plan is for 1 year, plant rice. If your plan is for 10 years, plant trees. If your plan is for 100 years, educate children.” And it was with those words that we jumped in head first. We were determined to make an impact through hunting and the great outdoors on these young men.

That first afternoon and evenings’ schedule was dominated by lectures on topics such as; why hunting plays an important role in conservation, what the correct ethics were in hunting – the do’s and dont’s, and of course we wanted to hear from them what they thought hunting was. How did they see this age-old tradition?

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We spoke about the various methods of hunting and then capped off our day with a rifle cleaning session and dinner around the campfire. Some of the boys had never traveled this far away from home before – so all were pretty exhausted after an overwhelming first day. The boys settled into their campsite and were fast asleep before we even realized they had quietly disappeared from the fire.

The following morning saw the “shy” boys from the previous day rise to slightly more confident young men. With their smiles and imminent signs of genuine interest, my fears started dissipating. Things started falling in place as we started the morning lecture off with tracking and track identification in the field. By mid morning we had them back to the final lecture session of the day – animal identification. This proved to be an interesting one as soon one could judge the region a child was from by the game he was able to identify. With our huge variety of game one could understand how a kid from the Karoo didn’t have the slightest idea of what a Blue Duiker or Bushbuck looked like, while the coastal kids had never seen a Gemsbuck in their lives before.

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After lunch we were off to the range. This proved to be one of the most rewarding afternoons I have ever experienced. There we were, Greg, Stix, Asisipho, Patrick’s trainer assistant, and myself, each at a bench with the boys taking turns. Patrick covered the various gun safety aspects once again, and then we had the boys take their first shots with a .22. The results were astounding. Expecting a full afternoon on the range we had not planned or banked on how fast they would master the art of handling a firearm in a safe manner, and then becoming crack shots at the same time. We were astounded!

Soon we had them shooting off sticks, and then we put away the .22’s and took out the 243’s – which they would be using the following day to hopefully harvest their first Springbuck.

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By the early evening we felt confident in our young hunters capabilities and headed back to camp to discuss the various shot placement scenarios and the general characteristics and habits of their target specie the following day.

8/8 – What a day!

That morning we woke the boys at 04:30 am and headed out for Springbuck. Four teams consisting of a Professional Hunter and two boys, accompanied by a GTS Productions cameraman, set out in various directions. The Springbuck were plentiful and the opportunities numerous. The boys had clearly listened the previous day, and while there were some spectacular misses, there were some pretty amazing shots too. In the end we got home at 17:30 that afternoon with 8 boys, and 8 Springbuck. It was a remarkable feat to say the least. We had taken a bunch of serious “green horns” and achieved a level of success we had not envisaged, but more important than any kill, we had introduced hunting and the benefits of that lifestyle to a group of young men who now clearly seemed hooked.

We had taken 8 boys and turned them into 8 enthusiastic hunters. There’s something to be said about that particular experience.

Wrapping things up in fun –  A Charging Buffalo and Clays…

Our final day saw the weather continue to treat us well, as we set out to work and process the Springbuck carcasses from the previous days hunt. Each boy dismantled the various portions and cuts from his own Springbuck, while Patrick and Asisipho explained what each portion of meat could be used for, or prepared into a scrumptious meal. Once the meat was processed and packed away we were off to the range once again. This time round we had a surprise up our sleeve for the boys.

Arriving at the range the boys soon realized they wouldn’t be shooting at stationary targets, but a mobile one – in the form of a charging Cape Buffalo on a sled. One of the boys would tie a long rope around his waist, which was connected to a life-size Cape Buffalo target, and upon Patrick’s command the runner would take off at a full gallop pulling the sled along at a rapid pace towards a second boy with a loaded .22. The concept was quite simple ~ hit the Buffalo in the head or chest before the sled reached your position. This proved to be a hit with the boys, as the laughter and excitement reached new levels. Soon we pulled out the “Elephant gun” as they referred to the 458, and offered then an opportunity to shoot with a big bore rifle for the very first time. Once those who opted to try the 458 had each had a couple of turns, the instructors and PH’s set out on a small competition of our own, taking on the charging Buffalo with the 458. I can proudly declare each one of the guys made the required kill shots, with our Mexican friend, Jose, out shooting us all! (He just got lucky! LOL) By the end of the charging Buffalo challenge one could see that the boys had now truly come into their own and were engaging in every aspect of every challenge we threw at them.

From one challenge we headed to the next – Clays on the range and the concept of wing shooting. This particular session proved to be an amazing one as some of the boys were recording 3/5 scores on their first round. We all agreed that was pretty impressive considering the time it takes most of us to master the art of successful clay pigeon shooting. We finished up the clays and shells, satisfied with a morning well spent and headed to camp for our final afternoon and evening around the camp fire.

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We had all had a blast!

Giving Thanks where Thanks is due…

As I proudly reflect back over the course I can truly say we have achieved everything we had hoped for and so much more. More importantly we have realized how much we take for granted, and how important it is for each and every one of us as hunters, to take responsibility of our actions, by committing ourselves to introducing our age-old tradition we hold so dear, to the next generation. While it is important that we continue to raise our young boys and girls in a manner that accepts hunting and the role it plays in the future of our wildlife, we need to challenge ourselves to introduce a complete “outsider” to the world of hunting. This is something harder than most would realize, and something we could not have done without the support of a number of committed hunters who made this first Jr Hunters Course a reality during 2016.

Most of them, as on previous occasions would prefer to remain anonymous, as they feel it’s not about them, but about the kids. They are the true saints of our Foundation, the people whom I cannot leave out at this time.

Sam Cunningham, Jim and Chris Smith, John Thompson, David and Mary-Lynn West – Words cannot express my gratitude. You all know how close to my heart this mission was, and every one of you never asked a single question, except how many kids the Foundation needed sponsorship for. You are the ones that have truly made a difference. Thank you.

Enjoy the memories with us as GTS Productions takes us back to a week of fun on the first of many Jr Hunters courses to come.

If you’ve enjoyed hearing about the John X Foundations Jr Hunter initiative and would like to get more involved by sponsoring a boy/s for our 2017 course, then please feel free to contact Carl directly on hunting@johnxsafaris.co.za  or catch up with him in the US during Jan/Feb 2017. Also note as of 2017 we will be able to offer our donors the opportunity to claim back 100% of their donations through an agreement reached with the Ithembu Trust via a 501(c)3 Registered Organization under the Jernigan Foundation. We’d be glad to have you on board as we strive to make a difference through hunting.

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!

No matter where you find yourself around the world, there comes a time in any given week that the outdoor enthusiasts sits back and reminisces about a past adventure or a future destination. The word “safari” alone veers one off from the task at hand sending you into a day-dream of sights and sounds of a distant land. As our season draws to a close we are forced into the realm of the real world and the office jobs we’ve put off for so long come beckoning, so too we find ourselves day dreaming from time to time.

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Just this past Monday, as with any “blue Monday” in the office, I had barely reached mid-morning when I found myself deep in thought staring out of the window while watching my three-year old son interacting with my tracker while conversing in fluent Xhosa. I’m not sure what exactly the conversation on the far end of the garden was about, but there was a bow involved, and hunting was most obviously the only thing on their minds. It took me back to happy days on safari with my Dad, Rick, when I was a young boy like my own son. I had always dreamnt about a big safari with just my Dad and I, but that never materialized due to the nature of our family business. Luckily for me my Dad always took me along and I got to see and visit some of the most remarkable safari destinations southern Africa has to offer.

It led me onto the extraordinary father/son duo of Joe and Grant Kapaun who joined us on safari during June.

My thoughts led me onto the extraordinary father/son duo of Joe and Grant Kapaun who joined us on safari during June.

Joe had joined us on a previous hunt with our great friend, Brett Nelson, during 2013, expressing a desire after that first safari to have his son, Grant, join him upon his return. The Kapaun’s made the most of our #Gettingtheyouthhuntingatjxs initiative, ensuring money was saved on day fees which could be enjoyed out in the field.

P.H. Rusty Coetzer had made a habit of hunting big East Cape Kudu during the early part of the season and continued on where he had started. Joe was the lucky man to win a head to head game of “rock/paper/scissors” on their first bull, with Grant coming away with a superb bull of his own towards the end of the hunt late one afternoon. From a Caracal with hounds along the Indian Ocean to Gemsbuck and Wildebeest on the plains of the Great Karoo… This and so much more.

But Grant's Cape Eland was the one that caught my attention the most. I had heard about the epic hunt for this beast of a bullfantastic trophies with memories to match.

But it was Grant’s Cape Eland that caught my attention first and foremost. I had heard about the epic hunt for this beast of a bull. He had everything that made for a fantastic trophy. It summed up their hunt. Not only did they come away with the bragging rights on one heck of a bag of trophies, but the memories to match a father/son hunt like few had seen before.

Tuesday didn’t go any better on the work front either. I skimmed through my mails, got the rest of the crew going, and then settled into a cup of warm coffee just after 7am.

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The smell of the fragrant Kenyan coffee soon had me off on a journey to a cold evening hustled around a crackling fire in the middle of Zimbabwe’s lowveldt.

That particular evening, and the nine before, combined with the chill in our bones and the ache in our hearts would be the final straw of an unsuccessful Leopard hunt with my dear friend, Dave Kjelstrup. We had thrown EVERYTHING at harvesting a large tom, but it seemed the harder we tried the bleaker the light. Some things it seemed are just not meant to be. Or who knows?

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Further south, Dave’s friends, Alex Good and Paul Latchford, were into some nasty weather too.

While Dave and I were up north of the border, P.H.’s Ross “Stix” Hoole and Greg Hayes, were battling the coldest storm of the year on a Gray Wing Shoot over English Pointer at 5000 feet.

Luckily for them the weather improved during the hunt, but the birds had been scattered deep into cover, making for long walks on steep terrain in search of wild coveys.

As for Alex, he always makes the most of everything, ensuring a smile is never far below the surface.

As for Alex, he always makes the most of everything, ensuring a smile is never far below the surface.

With our hunt in Zimbabwe coming to an end, we headed south to join Alex and Paul for the remainder of our safari. A combination of trophies and culls, combined with never-ending laughter from three great friends and a certain new landmark aptly named “The Latchford” blind made for a fun-filled last five days in Africa. Don’t ask us why it’s called “The Latchford” we’ll leave Alex to explain this marvel of a landmark when next you’re in the Great Karoo.

While Dave and my hunt in Zimbabwe saw little reward, I personally found reward in our last few days in the East Cape. I had arranged for Dave to link up with our friends from Gunwerks, recommending the 6.5×284 as a great fit for him. Within months he had his gun and was hunting with it in the US. Soon our hunt had arrived, but Dave was yet to master his rifle and gain sufficient trust in the system I’ve come to trust so much from my experience with it. His growth in confidence as the days passed, and the belief in his capabilities, but more so the sight of seeing him enjoy every minute of it made for one of the highlights in my year.

How fun it was to see him find pleasure in a rifle that has opened the door to so many opportunities in the future.

How rewarding it was to see him find pleasure in a rifle that has opened the door to so many opportunities in the future.

By Wednesday I had at least made it to the halfway mark of my week in the office. The work was somehow finding its way into the ‘done” column and I had reasoned a well-earned break to cast back over a couple of hunts from July. Pretty impressive stuff if I could say so myself…

Here's a certaib Warthog neither P.H. Martin Neuper or Tom Lincoln will be forgetting anytime soon.

Here’s a certain Warthog neither P.H. Martin Neuper or Tom Lincoln will be forgetting anytime soon.

How about Mike Grier's massive East Cape Kudu. How clearly the memory sits with me now. Mike had been on two previous hunts with us before, this was his third and a dream of a 50" Kudu was all Mike had in mind. Phew! It's great to produce the results! Better lucky than good I say!

How about Mike Grier’s massive East Cape Kudu. How clearly the memory sits with me now. Mike had been on two previous hunts with us before, this was his third and a dream of a 50″ Kudu was all Mike had in mind. Phew! It’s great to produce the goods! Better lucky than good is all I’m thinking about right now! Then again the harder we try the luckier our hunters seem to get.

Here’s another great hunt from July. John and Anita Hertner have become more than just good friends over the years. They have become involved in John X Safaris making their home and their trophy room available to our many friends in and around Kearney, Nebraska, each January for a cocktail evening.

This years hunt was their second to John X Safaris and one I most certainly enjoyed guiding.

This years hunt was their second to John X Safaris and one I most certainly enjoyed guiding.

Having spoken at length about the various trophy preferences for their return hunt we settled on a number of great choices. Red Hartebeest, Black Wildebeest, Blesbuck and Cape Bushbuck, all made for great hunting yet relaxing days out on safari.

By Thursday my day dreaming was starting to see the light and an escape plan of eluding the office on Friday was starting to become a reality. No normal P.H. could possibly complete an entire week in the office, so as to celebrate the nearing of my freedom back into the bush early on Friday morning I quickly glanced over one of my favorite safaris from 2016.

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Tyler Geer was back making the most of our #Gettingtheyouthhuntingatjxs initiative too, bringing his son, Hunter, along on his second adventure to John X Safaris joining P.H., Greg Hayes, and Tracker, Bless.

The guys hunted both our southern Coastal region as well as our northern Karoo areas.

Tyler’s appreciation of every aspect that goes into any given safari, combined with his mannerism around camp has turned him into not only a pleasure, but a great friend we all so enjoy having on safari. One of their toughest days up in the Great Karoo saw both hunters work extremely hard to achieve a double for Dad and Son on Black Springbuck.

It made for some amazing memories for the entire team involved in the hunt, but also one of my favorite safari pictures from 2016.

It made for some amazing memories for the entire team involved in the hunt, but also produced one of my favorite safari pictures from 2016. Isn’t that what it’s all about!

A hectic week in the office is just about behind me, thank goodness for the many safari day dreams.

Until next month – Enjoy the outdoors and do so responsibly.

I’m out of here.. The bush has been calling all week-long.

Ps. I wont be answering emails until Monday – Enjoy the weekend and get outdoors!

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!

A Proper ELAND

By Paul Brisso

A few months before my 2016 safari, John X Safaris owner, and PH, Carl van Zyl, and I were still working out the details of what and where we were going to hunt.  We had an idea with my “wish list”, but were still exploring a few further options for my fifth trip to Africa.

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In an e-mail going over some of our plans, Carl closed with:  “Am I correct that you do not have a big proper Cape Eland yet?  If not, THEN THIS IS A MUST.  I FOUND A HONEY HOLE CLOSE TO WHERE WE WILL BE HUNTING FOR BUSHBUCK.  If you do not have one, then this is it!  Trust me—even I want to go hunt one!”  He attached a couple of scouting photos of old block-bodied, blue-gray Eland bulls he had snapped with his large wildlife lens.

I smiled as the last sentence of his e-mail took me back to a hot, dusty evening a couple of years before in Mozambique.  Last light found Carl, our Mozambique professional hunter, and I, trudging back to the truck after spending a few hours unsuccessfully putting some stalks on a big Sable.  We were done hunting for the day, sweaty, dusty and black with soot from grass burns.  We were talking and laughing as we headed to the truck anticipating ice-cold beers waiting for us at camp.

Suddenly, in a heartbeat, Carl returned to hunting mode.  “Shoot that Reedbuck!!!” he said in a low but insistent voice.  I gave him a puzzled look.  This area of Mozambique was noted for having a lot of Common Reedbuck but very average trophy quality.  When I hesitated, Carl spoke again, even more insistent:  “Either shoot that Reedbuck, or give me your rifle and I will shoot him for myself.”

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I harvested that Reedbuck in the failing light of Mozambique. It turned out to be the biggest Reedbuck taken in the concession since the area reopened to hunting following the Mozambican civil war and a tremendous trophy for any Reedbuck area.

So when Carl said he wanted to hunt one of these Eland himself, he had my full attention.  I have to admit that early in my African hunting career Eland did not appeal to me.  I like big antlers and big horns, and an Eland’s horns are rather small in relationship to the size of their Moose-like body.  Kudu, Gemsbok, Impala, Waterbuck, Black Wildebeest and Lechwe were much higher on my priority list on those earlier safaris. Beside, Eland are so big, after you get one what do you do with it?

After hunting twice in Namibia, I went on my first safari in South Africa with Carl.  My good friends, Steve and Lisa Dahmer, were on that hunt also.  It was Lisa’s first trip to Africa, but Eland was at the very top of her trophy wish list.

Late one afternoon Carl and I saw a group of six or seven Eland, including one huge old bull.  We returned the next morning and the trackers and I sat by the truck on an opposite hillside and watched Carl, Steve, Lisa and their professional hunter put on a long, challenging stalk on the moving herd.  They expertly and patiently used the brush and contours of the hill to close the distance.  After a couple of hours of cat and mouse, Lisa took advantage of her opportunity and dropped the bull with a single well-placed shot.

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After a panoramic view of the action, the trackers and I joined the hunting party for my first up close and personal view of a truly magnificent Eland bull.

If you want to make a case that the record book is not always an accurate measure of a true trophy animal, the Eland is Exhibit A.  The scoring systems are based solely on a combination of length and circumference of the horns.  As a result, the record books are crowded with middle-age to young Eland bulls that have not yet reached their true prime.  These bulls have reached their optimal horn length and have enough mass to “score” well.  They are visibly larger than the females (which also have horns) but are generally the same reddish-brown grey color.

However, a truly mature bull is not just bigger than the cows (and the younger bulls) but absolutely dwarfs them.  An old bull looks like a railroad box car with legs that appear too small for the body and a massive neck.  He is usually a steel blue-gray color that can never be confused with a cow or younger bull.  In a herd, he sticks out from the cows and younger bulls like a sore thumb by his sheer body size and color.

The old bulls have other attributes that are never reflected in the record book, such as a thick mop of red-brown hair on the forehead and a huge neck dewlap, which is used as a “radiator” to circulate and cool blood near the skin surface.  The horns also develop significantly more mass at the base and the sharp spiral ridges are smoothed from wear, but unfortunately for those hung up on the record book numbers, the increase in base mass is more than offset by wearing down of the horn length as the bull matures and ages. The bottom line is that a venerable old Eland is very often “outscored” by less mature bulls.

After taking a magnificent Bushbuck on the first day of our safari, we commenced our hunt for a “proper Eland.”

Day one of the Eland hunt found us glassing a herd of about 30 near mid-day with a bull that had us vacillating but ultimately passing (a decision we questioned after reviewing the video several times that evening back at the lodge).

Later in the afternoon we found a herd of about ten, with a couple of young bulls and one larger bull, bedded on a hillside but starting to stir.  Carl anticipated their route perfectly.  We set up an ambush about a quarter of a mile away.  They ultimately passed side hill about 150 yards from us but the best bull in the group was not quite a “proper Eland” yet.

Carl remained upbeat and confident.  “This area has a lot of old bulls I saw while scouting that we haven’t seen yet.  We’ll find them eventually,” he predicted.

The rest of that afternoon and evening those bulls continued to elude us.  However, in the closing light as we were returning to the lodge, we took advantage of an opportunity to take a wonderful trophy Springbok.

We ended the day with a fine animal and undaunted by our failure to find the proper Eland.

We ended the day with a fine animal and undaunted by our failure to find the proper Eland.

We decided to give the Eland some time to get more cooperative the next day and traveled to a different area where we unsuccessfully chased Vaal Rhebuck, but the following day we were back searching for a proper Eland.  Early in the day it appeared the Eland were going to be as frustrating as they had previously been. But it was not to be.

We spotted some Eland in a valley that appeared to have at least one very promising bull.  The wind seemed right.  We anticipated a fairly level, easy stalk of a quarter-mile or so up the valley to get set up for a good shot.  But Carl, Jose Hernandez, my wife, Teresa, and I, hadn’t gone more than about 25 yards before we realized the wind was swirling.  We were going to have to climb to the top of the ridge and make a long loop around on the ridge-line to get into position while keeping the wind in our favor.

I have learned that things can change quickly in Africa, and as we got out of the truck for what was supposed to be an easy stalk I had slipped a bottle of water into a cargo pocket of my pants.  I was glad I did.

We had a relatively short, but very steep climb to the top of the ridge.  It was in full sun and the morning was already getting hot.  I felt like I was on a sheep hunt, but Carl’s 300 Win. Mag.  with its scope and suppressor must have weighed about twice as much as the  lightweight .270 I am used to carrying on climbs.   After a short but steep climb the ridge-line transitioned into a more gradual long, steady grind uphill.   As the morning wore on the heat became more intense and I was sweating profusely.   My wife’s encouragement and the last-minute water bottle kept me going.

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Making a wide loop, we eventually reached a spot where a slight downhill into a shallow swale and then a brief short climb though some moderately thick brush, totaling about 500 yards, should bring us to a spot above our Eland.  I was dragging, but could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Hunting on my own, I would have covered the distance relatively quickly.  Carl, however, continued to move slowly, glassing constantly.  I figured he was giving me the opportunity to recover from the climb and be more rested for the shot when we got to our objective.  That’s why he’s the professional hunter.

We had only gone about a hundred yards when Carl slowly melted to the ground and gestured to the rest of us to get down and be quiet.  After a couple of minutes of glassing, he set up the shooting sticks next to him for a sitting shot and motioned me to stay down, but crawl forward.

Reaching his side, Carl whispered, “These are two of the bulls we have been looking for but have not seen yet.”  Despite the fairly high brush, about two-thirds of two bulls’ bodies cleared the top of the vegetation about 100 yards away.  “The one on the left,” Carl whispered.  The sitting shot on the sticks was rock solid, the bull was broadside and filled most of the scope, and the red dot of the lighted reticule painted the point of the shoulder.

At the shot, the bull spun 180 degrees and headed downhill, disappearing into the brush.  As he disappeared everything went quiet—we did not hear him crashing away.  “You hit him perfect!!” Carl assured me.  We circled uphill a bit to get a better perspective then worked our way to the last sighting of the bull.

We found him piled up less than 25 yards from where he had stood.

We found him piled up less than 25 yards from where he had stood.

He was truly a proper Eland.  The horns had massive bases, but the length was worn to stout posts and the spiral ridges were blurred.  He had it all—the horns, a heavy red-brown forehead “mop,” a huge dewlap, massive size, and a blue-gray cape.

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I thought I had a place for him in my trophy room.  After recently getting the approximate measurements from the taxidermist and measuring my space, now I am not so sure.  One of the first questions I ever had about hunting Eland is coming back to haunt me:  Now that I have him, what am I going to do with him?”

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But it’s a great problem to have.

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!

During late July, together with the Gunwerks crew, we welcomed first timers Mark Simpson and Bob Phillips on their first safaris to the Dark Continent.

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Shooting their custom-made Gunwerks 7 mm’s the guys set out with Professional Hunter, Ross “Stix” Hoole, on the hunt of a lifetime. Both men proved to be excellent shots, and more importantly as we’ve come to learn from the Gunwerks system, they made for a competent team. The success of any long-range hunt lies with the spotter as much as with the capabilities of the shooter – neither can function without the other.

The guys started in the north - hoping to get off to a solid start with open vistas and countryside that stretches as far as the eye can see.

The guys started in the north – hoping to get off to a solid start with open vistas and countryside that stretches as far as the eye can see.

Enjoying the open terrain with numerous long-range opportunities on a daily basis, saw the team being put through their paces within days. The cold weather allowed for some challenging shooting at times, but the crisp quiet after the storm allowed for amazing long-range conditions.

Having mastered the Karoo it was time to hit the coast – A new set of challenges with a complete exchange in specie options. Gone were the big open plains that provide such a target rich environment, it was now the challenges of our coastal forests and the small clearings with limited visibility and quick opportunities. Blink and they’re gone, concentrate and stay focused, and you’ll not believe how much game moves in and about our forests.

Here patience is the name of the game... And you better be ready.

Here patience is the name of the game… And you better be ready.

With persistence and first class shooting, and a system like few, these guys achieved phenomenal results. Both the Waterbuck and Zebra shots were outstanding, but Bob’s shot on his Nyala was out of this world!

A fantastic safari it proved to be with amazing scenery, guiding, shots, and setups – GTS Productions went along and joined them on their safari.Enjoy their hunt as we relive 10 action-packed days with Gunwerks and John X Safaris in the East Cape, South Africa.

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 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!

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