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“Why is the western world up in arms because a Westerner illegally killed a lion when 100`s of lions are illegally killed by Africans with snares, poisons, spears, and the likes? Are Africans innocent because they are poor….are Americans guilty because they are rich in comparison?

And what do you think Africans feel when the western world is outraged because ONE lion is illegally killed by a paying hunter? Where were these same Westerners during the atrocities of genocide both in Rwanda and Zimbabwe, the famines, the abductions of school girls, the brutal, torturous and murderous farm attacks on farmers (some of whom I knew)?

Where were these smug, self-righteous, ignorant folk then? Why weren`t they blocking up Facebook and twitter with their outrage? And what do you think the starving Africans and the greater Zimbabwe population think about Cecil being shot? Not much I bet!” – Stewart Dorrington, PHASA Past President.

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Since last you heard from us in mid July it seems the world has lost its mind over a Lion called Cecil. Storms have been brewing as I read the numerous media reports on various forums, either for or against hunting. While both sides have flung enough dung at one another to last a century, I beg to pose the same obvious question; “What does the people of Zimbabwe think of Cecil the Lion?”

I haven’t heard or seen much from them being published. In fact I was on safari in Zimbabwe during early July, when the hunt of Cecil supposedly took place, and I didn’t hear one murmur on the streets, in hotels, at airports or camps about Cecil. I can however tell you of what I saw and experienced firsthand, and let me warn you, the people of Zimbabwe need Walter Palmer, the American dentist, who hunted the now world-renowned lion, as much as they need a healthy and sustainable lion population in Zimbabwe.

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The people are hungry – they are desperate, and to all those who claim that it’s simply not good enough in today’s world to go by the old motto of; “IF IT PAYS IT STAYS”, then I challenge you to try to educate or at least convince a hungry African sitting under a tree in a village in Zimbabwe, that the world has changed and that living by a survival instinct is no longer the “done” thing. In Zimbabwe, and for that matter, all over Africa – It will stay as long as it pays. Have no doubt of this fact.

While the hunting community will never support any illegal practices in our industry, it is imperative for the world to keep some perspective. The day the world forgets about his fellow-man and puts the plight of an animal before that of its own will be a sad day for mankind.  By saying this it doesn’t mean we do not have an important responsibility at hand, we are the custodians of the land and wildlife, and it is up to us to ensure the survival, sustainability, and growth of our wildlife in Africa. Africa needs to be paid in order to ensure it stays. It’s not rocket science – its basic economics practiced by each and everyone on a daily basis. Like it or not – deal with it.

While the “arm chair” critic hid behind his computer screen, the hunters continued doing what they do best – SAVING WILDLIFE….

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Instead of being an “arm chair” critic hiding behind a PC screen claiming to be a self-confessed wildlife savior from the comfort of a chair, the hunters have continued doing what we do best – saving wildlife.

Oh! How I hear the shouts of hypocrite from the opposition! But hang on for a minute before I’m once again strung and hung in public without a single word from my corner. Let’s get a couple of facts straight.

Since last you heard from us we’ve been hunting – yes – every single day since July 18th. We’ve hosted numerous hunters from around the world, all willing to pay a top dollar in support of our wildlife. Those finances earned have ensured sustainability and growth of our industry. An industry that ensures first and foremost it has a resource to invest in – our resource being our wildlife. Without our wildlife we won’t have what we offer today.

The spin-off from there runs into immediately dependent sectors, the closet being trackers, skinners, camp staff, professional hunters, agents, game ranchers, outfitters, taxidermist, airlines, hotels, and curio stores. The domino effect is a massive one, most certainly in South Africa, where a recent study by the University of the North West, has shown that hunters spend an average of R140 000 (+-USD $12000) per safari, compared to the R12000 (+-USD $ 1000) per photographic safari. The numbers don’t lie, and let’s face the facts; they’re pretty impressive when ones goal is to ensure sustainability. More than likely the reason why there’s more land set aside for wildlife in our country today than ever before, and there’s more game roaming the plains, hills, and mountains of SA than 100 years ago.

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In saying this it takes real figures to support our industry, an industry dependent on those willing to back their dollar in what they believe to be the best way of supporting a conservation module which they feel comfortable with. And it is these hunters whom we commend for supporting our conservation success story. As importantly we’ve enjoyed a five-week period of numerous young hunters joining their parents on safari. These hunters not only put their dollars towards conservation today, but towards conservation tomorrow.

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First up we hosted the Riley’s and Burlingame’s on a fun-filled mix-bag safari for both fur and feather.

Then it was time to welcome back old friends of John X Safaris. Robert Smith had first brought his son Tyler on safari some ten years ago, and this year returned with his youngest son, Jacob, and wife Kari.

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Kari, Robert & Jake with Jake’s world-class Cape Eland.

Robert didn’t plan on doing much hunting on this particular safari, handing Jake the reins to lead us on a family adventure like no other.  Professional Hunter, Carl van Zyl, had enjoyed the bond built up with Tyler all those years ago, and once again built up a brotherhood in hunting with Jake on this occasion. The hunts were challenging, with both PH and young hunter pushing hard to achieve a certain level of trophy quality. Each day started earlier than the previous, always striving to beat the best from the day before. From our epic Cape Eland up in the mountains, to the Kudu we beat at its own game of hide and seek, right to our last-minute Warthog – We were left with a bucket of memories and experiences that will last a lifetime… Well until Jake returns!

A special word of appreciation goes out to the Adams family for their “3 generation” hunt with John X Safaris. Paul Sr had first joined us on safari in 1998, and once again returned with the rest of the family during late July. It was a privilege hosting a hunt such as this, with both Dad and daughter, Lucendia, coming away with a number of great trophies.

Each and every one of these hunters must be congratulated for the manner in which they conducted themselves on these safaris. Watching the youth out in the field or around the lodge in the evenings was a privilege I’ve never gotten used to, and hope I never will.

With the likes of Cecil just about old news, we as hunters must realize there will be yet another media frenzy jumping on the next opportunity to sell a headline sooner rather than later. And it is with the experiences of the past five weeks that I beg to ask the question; “Is it not time for us to leave behind our differences and join forces for the greater of our wildlife?” While we will not always agree on what the right “answer” may be to ensuring our wildlife continues to exist and flourish for generations to come, should we not spend less of our energy trying to bring down one another instead of working towards the common goal we all strive to achieve? Can we not realize that there are many sectors to wildlife conservation, and that some areas for example are far too marginal for photographic operations to exist, and visa versa on hunting operations. Is it not wiser for the various groups to ensure that those who break the law are prosecuted, in a controlled and civilized manner, instead of going after an entire industry due to a couple of rotten apples?

 

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Let’s face the facts, both anti’s and pro’s need one another, we have the same common goal in place, and compliments to both sides, both have proven their strategies can be extremely successful at times, but finding the right balance in economics, paired with mutual respect for one another’s views may just hold the key to ensuring our wildlife pays it way in order to stay.

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

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Over the course of the past 12 years I have seen the likes of many great hunts enjoyed by numerous lucky hunters. Hunts that carried the camaraderie so familiar to those who choose to share a camp fire in a distant land on a grand adventure. Where trophies abound and the journey that is a safari, is cherished by not the weight of the bag, but more so the greater part that is the experience.

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Gunwerks owner, Aaron Davidson, with his East Cape Kudu from our 2015 hunt.

On this particular hunt it was not only the enormity of the experience, but the added bonus of world-class trophies hitting the salt at a regular basis. It does however go without saying, if it weren’t for the Gunwerks rifles and the technology behind the system, we would not have enjoyed the success we did.

In our growing partnership, together with Gunwerks, it has been rewarding to see the expertise the PH’s have developed under the guidance of the Gunwerks pros. Today we look back at those initial hunts as our first “lessons” in long-range shooting. As each group came and passed the guys have mastered new facets in the requirements of long-range safaris.

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Together with Aaron, Mike, Garrett, and Kregg, we have developed the ultimate long-range safari, giving long-range enthusiast the opportunity to test and improve their long-range shooting expertise. In one safari, you can get a lifetime of long-range hunting experience.

This year saw first timers Jesse Stout, aka “Super Hunter Rule Maker”, and “Long Shot” Trevor Kruger, join us on their first safaris to Africa, while second time returnee and old friend, Peter Corrado, invited his son, Dominic along for an epic father/son battle for long-range supremacy. As for the Gunwerks crew we once again enjoyed the company of owner, Aaron Davidson, and our good friend, Garrett Wall.

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All in all the guys impressed us to no end. The shooting ability of both the pros and what I like to refer to “the up and coming pros” was outstanding, without a doubt the highest standard to date by any group. There were a number of memorable shots over the 700 yard mark, then there were some in that 750-1000 yard range, and of course we once again witnessed a couple of freak shots over a 1000 yards. But for that and much, much more, you will have to wait for our upcoming shows during 2016 on Gunwerks Long Range Pursuit on the Sportsman Channel. For now… Without giving away too much, join us for some of the epic setups and a sneak preview of a couple of fantastic shots.

Be warned – the trophy quality, challenging shots, and all the drama in between is something not to be missed…..

Want to be a part of the Gunwerks 2016 group to John X Safaris?

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Still not sure? Maybe this may help your decision! Eat your heart out and enjoy the quality these hunters came away with during our 2015 safari.

From Mike Davidson

Looking over the guys trophy pictures from this last safari, having sat on the sidelines, totally envious, I can’t wait for our 2016 hunt with John X Safaris.

The funny thing is, I was never interested in hunting Africa until I had the opportunity to do so in 2014. That experience saw me enjoy one of the most amazing places in the world to hunt.

I would like to personally invite you to travel with myself and others from the Gunwerks crew to experience South African hunting at its finest. We will once again be heading back to the East Cape with John X Safaris.

There are very few outfitters who understand long-range shooting and even fewer who will actually let you hunt long-range. Carl and his crew are aware and understand that being able to shoot at further distances only increases the potential of harvesting the biggest and most elusive of trophies. In fact, they are so tuned into long-range shooting and hunting, that they will be able to put you in the perfect position to take the shot. They put the wind, terrain and every other factor in your favor, giving you the time and opportunity you need to make the shot count. You will be amazed by the sheer number of trophy quality animals, size of the hunting areas, and beauty of Africa.

This is one long-range hunting trip you do not want to miss.

Join the Gunwerks team in July 2016 for an action packed safari experience. Call 877.486.9375 or e-mail Mike on mike@gunwerks.com , alternatively feel free to reach Carl on hunting@johnxsafaris.co.za for more details.

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

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Having first met Larry Pendleton and Paul Valentine through our good friend, Bwana Big Jim Smith, at SCI some years ago, it was immediately obvious that we were all men cut from the same cloth. A passion for hunting was the obvious link, but the manner of hunting, combined with the species these two gentleman were after is what truly bonded us.

It would be their fourth trip to Africa, their first having been Zimbabwe, then Tanzania, and finally Namibia. South Africa’s East Cape would be their choice destination this time round, joining up with Professional Hunters, Carl van Zyl and Greg Hayes.

Together with their teams they took on the mountains for the ever elusive Mountain Reedbuck, Vaal Rhebuck and Klipspringer, before pursuing Cape Bushbuck, Nyala, Warthog, Blesbuck, and Zebra, along our coastal belt.

One particular afternoon up in the mountains of the Great Karoo, while searching for Klipspringer, Carl and Larry spotted a group of three animals high on a ridge above their glassing position. The Klipspringer were feeding in a relaxed manner, and while the spotting scope could hardly make out horns at that distance, the ram seemed to look promising between the mirages of a cold winters afternoon.

We immediately set off into the hills, choosing the “long way up”, earring on the side of caution as not to run off an opportunity. That morning we had already looked over two pairs as well as a single male – none of which warranted a closer look.

Reaching a predetermined rocky ledge, hoping the Klipspringer were still settled in a relaxed manner, we crawled up to the edge.

Reaching a predetermined rocky ledge, hoping the Klipspringer were still settled in a relaxed manner, we crawled up to the edge.

At first we spotted nothing, sure of the fact that they had to have moved off during the time it took us to reach the top. We indicated to Michael, our local tracker in the area, to move around the rocky ridge as quiet as he could, to see if he could possibly relocate our quarry. Soon he waved us over.

The animals had moved in under a ledge below our position and were in fact a lot closer than what we had expected. We got Larry in position, straddling the right edge of a large boulder.

The younger of the two females was standing out in the clear, presenting a beautiful shot, but the ram was playing hard to get, popping up from time to time, never presenting a shot.

The younger of the two females was standing out in the clear, presenting a beautiful shot, but the ram was playing hard to get, popping up from time to time, never presenting a shot.

With the sun starting to set in the west we noticed a pair of Black Eagles diving down towards the Klipspringer’s position. The birds were out on the hunt themselves too, immediately catching the attention of the weary Klipspringer. I indicated to Larry to get ready, the Klipspringer would soon be focused on the Eagles, not wanting to let them out of their sight. We waited….

After some time of mock diving by the Eagles it was clear they weren't going to land a Klipspringer so they moved on further down the ridge hunting for "Dassies"(rock rabbits).

After some time of mock diving by the Eagles it was clear they weren’t going to land a Klipspringer so they moved on further down the ridge hunting for rock rabbits.

With the setting sun casting a shadow ever nearer our position, I decided it was time to try my best predator calling imitation. Klipspringer are known to be extremely inquisitive, often responding to a fellow animals distress call in an alarming manner.

No sooner had we started calling, literally seconds, when three hungry looking black backed Jackal popped their heads up over a rock below us. Wow! This was action in its rawest form. The Klipspringer too immediately all jumped onto a large boulder, only to spot the Jackal and head west. Our chances were quite literally blown.

That evening around the campfire we relayed our experiences to Greg and Paul, when Greg suggested everything comes in 3’s. Both the Black Eagles and Jackals had given it their best shot – we would have our turn the following morning.

The next morning we were sure to head out of camp first, heading up the same ridge again.

The next morning we were sure to head out of camp first, heading up the same ridge again.

We immediately spotted the three again, this time at 350 yards. We decided to give it a go, but the 200 grain from Larry’s 300 WinMag was dropping off just too fast, that after the third shot without success we decided to close the gap between us and the animals.

By now the Klipspringer had run off into a side valley, giving us enough time to regather ourselves and get within range, while at the same time settling down again.

This time Larry made sure of his shot earning his dream Klipspringer.

This time Larry made sure of his shot earning his dream Klipspringer.

Our Klipspringer hunt was a mere one experience of the many we shared on safari. The stories around the dinner table will live on in our memories for ever, with Greg’s many comical experiences being a certain highlight.

Towards the end of the hunt when our various team competitions were in full swing, it was decided that hunter against hunter, and PH on PH had been tested, but not tracker on tracker. We dully decided a couple of cull Impala for our trackers, Bless and Zwayi, would provide a great hunt and further challenge as to finally settle who would lay claim to the A-Team status.

The guys did extremely well in fairly limited time and fading light, both earning one shot kills, but more than that breaking out some smiles that will take years to suppress!

Golf

On our last day, having hunted all the guys were after and coming to the conclusion that there were no winners or losers, we headed down to the coast for a day of golfing at the Royal Port Alfred Golf Club. Rick joined us, making for another fun-filled day, closing off a safari with two gentleman who arrived as strangers, but left as friends.

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

By Ron Machado

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My professional hunter (P.H.), Poen van Zyl, squatted slightly, and motioned me to his side.  He turned to face me and said quietly, “The buffalo is laying down about thirty yards in front of us.  Can you see him?”  I could see a dark shape in the dense undergrowth, but not the buffalo.  Poen handed me his field glasses; looking through them, I could see the buffalo.  I could make out his shape through the foliage and see the heavy breathing caused by my lung shot nearly three hours ago.

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I had taken the first shot just before six a.m. and followed it up with two additional shots. We could see the animal hunch up with all three shots. He continued to follow his herd, falling behind, but made it to the forested area bordering the large pan where they were watering and feeding.

Once we entered the forest, I fully expected to find him but he continued to move.  Sometimes he was with the herd, and sometimes would fall behind.  When the buffalo was with the herd, we needed to follow slowly.  If he left without us seeing his track, we could lose him.  Our tracker, a local by the name of Gorchie Santos, was exceptional.  We slowly followed the buffalo where I could see no tracks or blood.  I did question our direction, when I could not see any blood for a period of time.  Then, within a few minutes, Gorchi pointed out a few drops of blood on a leaf or low branch.

While we moved quietly, we did push the herd when they would sense us.  Once the buffalo sensed us, they moved off fast crashing through the forest.  We reached a spot, where they had bedded down where I saw large sprayed areas of blood.  As time went on, this continued to increase.  My lung shot was causing great blood loss to the buffalo.  The animal was losing blood with each step.  The floor of the forest was covered, as if a person was cleaning a paint brush by swinging it to the ground.  This is when Poen called me to him and pointed out the bedded buffalo.

The buffalo’s head and front shoulder were partially covered by branches and brush.  The only shot I had was in the middle of its body.  Poen told me to take whatever I could, as the more lead in him the better off we were.  I tried to keep the shot as far forward on the body as I could, without hitting the foliage.  I did not want the shot to be deflected.  At my shot, with the exception of the wounded buffalo, all of the herd animals rose and burst into the forest.  He moved to our left and stopped under a low tree.  I removed the spent shell in my .458, topped off my magazine with a fresh 500 gr. solid, and walked forward with Poen and Gorchi.

In a flash, Gorchi, poor Gorchie, who had no gun, fell flat to the ground and looked back at us, trusting us to end the buffalo’s rampage.  Poen yelled that the buffalo was going to charge.  With that, the buffalo broke through the branches and brush and came directly at us.  When he burst out from under the branches, his head was held high.  I can only say what my mind saw.  The buffalo truly looked ten feet tall.  My first shot was followed up by my P.H. shooting, but the buffalo continued to come.  I am sure he was making some kind of noise, but I did not hear anything.  I fired, again, and the buffalo turned slightly and stopped, but only for a split second, he lowered his head and turned on us.  I fired the last shot in my gun, as Poen fired also.

The buffalo fell to the ground less than three yards in front of us.

The buffalo fell to the ground less than three yards in front of us.

I managed to get two rounds into my rifle, as we circled the beast.  There was no need for an additional shot, as one of our shots had hit the buffalo one inch below its right eye.  During this brief encounter, I felt no fear.  The thought of running never entered my mind. After my buffalo was on the ground, my emotions broke free.  I let out a yell that could be heard a mile away.  I felt alive; the sense of facing one of the most dangerous animals in Africa was extraordinary.  As my senses returned, the area came into view.  I could see the colors, smell the buffalo, everything was clear.

Professional Hunter, Poen van Zyl, and Ron with Ron’s trophy Cape Buffalo.

Before the hunt, I had told anyone who would listen that I wanted a specific horn shape.  From my first shot, until the animal was on the ground, I never looked at the horns.  I am happy beyond belief.  Everything about this hunt was exceptional, from the tracking after my first shots to the closing in on the animal, and the tunnel vision of its last and final charge.  They will be imprinted on my mind forever.

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The day I took my buffalo was November 3, 2010, the fourth day of my hunt in Mozambique, with John X Safaris.

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”….

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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.

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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….

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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