By Paul Brisso
When I booked my third safari with Carl van Zyl of John X Safaris for April of 2016, I had two primary objectives in mind. First and foremost, I wanted Carl to help me introduce my wife Teresa on her first safari to the wonders and experience that makes Africa such a special place. And along the way, I wanted to hunt some animals that I had either not had the opportunity to hunt, or that had eluded me on my prior four trips to southern Africa.
Among these was the Cape Bushbuck. Although a relatively common animal in much of southern Africa, my first two safaris in Namibia were too far north and west for Cape Bushbuck. On my first safari with Carl and John X Safaris in South Africa several years before, we came up empty-handed after being outwitted by an exceptional Bushbuck.
On that previous safari, Bushbuck was fairly low on the priority list, to the point where we did not target it until late in the safari. But on the last morning of the hunt we thought the hunting gods were going to be kind to us. Glassing from a low ridge, we spotted a great ram feeding below our view-point following two females. Dropping into the bottom, we worked our way towards the three shy animals, moving slowly and carefully to intercept them.
Everything seemed to go perfectly according to plan. Mid to late morning we had worked into a location where we had a clear view of an opening along their route. We set up on the shooting sticks, anticipating they would enter the lane about 80 yards away. After 10-15 minutes, the first female fed into the clearing from our right, oblivious of our presence. We could see glimpses of red-brown of the second female and the dark shades of the ram through the heavy brush. After a few minutes, the second female fed into view, the ram would soon follow. Our excitement levels were building as we could still see glimpses of the ram though the brush heading our way.
“Get ready,” Carl whispered softly. “Here he comes.” He never did. The two females continued feeding on contentedly through the clearing and back into the brush on the other side, oblivious to our much-anticipated ambush. The ram apparently decided it was time to bed down and turned right, heading back in the direction he was coming from, never setting foot in the clearing.
We decided to pull out and return that evening, the last of our safari. The wily and lucky old ram did not come out until almost very last light, and then he was too far away for us the get into position before darkness enveloped the bush. We tipped our cap to our intended quarry and for years Carl and I have talked about the one that got away.
On my second safari with Carl we headed to Mozambique for Cape Buffalo a couple of years later, where Carl and I got a small measure of revenge on Bushbuck by taking a very nice Chobe Bushbuck on that particular hunt. But our longing for the one that got away and the continual discussion of it saw our urge for an exceptional Cape Bushbuck grow even more. We made an agreement – The next time we hunted together in South Africa we would prioritize a Cape Bushbuck.
So for my 2016 safari Carl had instructed me to fly into East London, rather than Port Elizabeth, which is nearer to his home base of Lalibela, so that we could pursue Cape Bushbuck in some prime country along the wild coast. Prior to our arrival in East London, my wife and I spent an enjoyable week of viewing wildlife, touring, and adjusting to the time zone difference, before flying from Durban to East London to commence with our hunting. We had purchased the photo safari at the annual California Wild Sheep Foundation fundraiser the prior year, making for a relaxing week as we acclimatized to Africa.
Upon arrival in East London we were met at the airport by John X Safaris head PH, Greg Hayes, whom joined us for a fantastic late lunch at a café overlooking the Indian Ocean, before traveling the 45 minutes to camp at Mpotshane Game Reserve where we met up with Carl. Since we had done a photo safari first, for the first time I had decided to travel to Africa without my own rifle and use one of Carl’s for the safari. That afternoon we moved into our room, sighted in the rifle, and settled into the lodge for our first evening.
It rained that night and the weather was still unsettled in the morning, but after breakfast we headed out to an area we would be hunting Bushbuck. We met up with the landowner and set out in search of a ram. We had quite an entourage—in addition to Carl, Teresa and me, we had Jose Hernandez doing some video work for Carl, Carl’s tracker, Greg and his tracker, and the landowner.
The country was ideal Bushbuck country—very steep and very thick with vegetation and very light hunting pressure.
There was no doubt there were Bushbuck on the property that had never seen a human. On the other hand, there was no doubt there were Bushbuck on the property that was humanly impossible to see.
We covered a lot of country that morning and set up and glassed openings without success, other than a few females and one young ram. The weather remained unsettled. We were so close to Mpotshane that we decided to return for lunch, and then return again later in the afternoon. Sooner or later the weather would lift and the game would start moving.
By early afternoon the weather seemed to be clearing, and we crossed our fingers in the hope that the Bushbuck would be out and about. We returned and commenced glassing from a spot we could see a substantial amount of country from. The trackers had been placed on a couple of different points to glass, while the rest of us were together on a spot with a wide panorama. There was so much country to glass, every set of binoculars focusing on far away ridges and gorges would increase our chances, but things remained slow.
With the two professional hunters, Jose, the landowner, and me glassing various areas, Teresa—on the first day of her first safari – calmly said “There’s one.” She had spotted a ram in a small opening on a steep hillside about 250-300 yards away. It was precisely the break we were after. The cooler weather and scattered thunder showers had pushed the animals into the deep cover, but now that the sun was starting to make its appearance again, not even a weary old ram could resist a few warm rays.
Carl quickly confirmed it was not only a ram, but an exceptional ram. We quietly moved into a shooting position a little over 200 yards away across the canyon and I touched off the shot from the 300 Win Mag. As the shot rang out the ram immediately reacted. “You’ve hit him just perfect Paul!” Carl whispered excitedly; “Did you see him jump up into the air and somersault into the brush?” unfortunately I hadn’t seen all of this as the recoil of the gun had obscured my view for a couple of seconds, but that didn’t matter, my shot was true and all indications pointed towards a downed ram.
Man were we excited when we found him!
Tracking a wounded Bushbuck in that steep and heavily wooded country would have been a challenge beyond words. Even so, with a confirmed downed ram we still needed a dog to help us find the animal in the thick brush.
Having found our ram was one thing, getting him out was another. Luckily for us we had a strong tracker, Bless, along to pack my ram out of the steep canyon.
With a feeling of content I watched on as Carl and the crew put together the final touches that would immortalize my trophy for the rest of my life. Pictures carry our stories beyond the adventures – Carl and his crew ensures that those pictures are always taken with the utmost care to capture that exact memory.
I had my Cape Bushbuck!
Back at Mpotshane that evening, we celebrated and toasted our first day success and the skill of our rookie game spotter with cocktails and another great dinner. The next day we would move on in an attempt to locate what Carl termed “a right proper Eland.” But that is an entirely different story for another day.
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!