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By Cherise Ratliff

In South Africa, I felt freedom from dates and times. That doesn’t happen very often. At least not in my life. Every day is a somewhat predictable juggle of school starting, and work starting, and meetings starting, and school ending, and work ending, and dinner cooking, and bedtime going. On our recent trip, most of the time I had no idea what day it was, how long it was going to take for us to drive somewhere, or what time it was? I can’t tell you how refreshing that was. Our trip to Africa with the Horizon Firearms crew made me feel alive. I can’t decide if it’s sad or just reality that the majority of our lives are lived in a very small space. We drive the same routes, we follow the same schedule, we spend time with the same people, and we do the same things….. day in and day out. When you fly across the world and live life with people WAY outside of that space, something happens inside. Your heart explodes, your mind expands. It’s invigorating and fascinating, and returning to the mundane feels downright depressing. Don’t get me wrong, I missed my little boy with all my heart and couldn’t wait to hug his sweet body, and I missed my bed and my favorite people; however, going on adventures forces me to challenge the way I live and think, and it enhances my desire to plan for bigger and for more! An African safari of a lifetime will do that to you.

In Texas, we drive around on a ranch and get jazzed when spotting a whitetail deer or a hog. Usually the biggest question is how big the antlers were on the buck that was running away or standing in a sendero. With John X Safaris, you drive around and see a Kudu or Nyala or Wildebeest or Warthog or Reedbuck or Zebra or Mongoose or Meerkat or Monkey’s or Blesbuck or Impala or Steenbuck or Baboon or Hartebeest or Jackal or Ostrich or Gemsbuck or Eland or Springbuck or Giraffe or Bushbuck or Duiker … you get my point. “What is that? Did you see that? Look over there. Whoa, look at that thing!”  I believe that God’s creativity, sense of humor, and love for beauty in abundant wildlife is more evident in South Africa than anywhere else I’ve ever been. It is simply stunning.

We all look at life and people through a lens … a lens that has been crafted by our parents, our childhood experiences, our influencers, and the generally accepted ideals and behaviors of the society in which we live. When you travel internationally, you ‘aren’t in Kansas anymore.’ I love asking questions … probably at an annoyingly high rate. Stix and Ozzie thought they were going hunting, not educating a Texan “question-asker” about the history of South Africa, apartheid, Nelson Mandela, current political and cultural climates, the military’s engagement, Dutch and English influences, religious beliefs, racial differences, rugby and rowing, and boarding school (I still can’t get my head around children leaving home at age 5/6 for nine months of the year!). Right, wrong or indifferent, it’s not the same ballgame, and there are things to learn
and people to love all over the world.

Derrick always thanks me for giving stuff a try and having a pretty good attitude about it. I am fairly easily entertained and generally content in most situations. If I had 7 free days, would I choose to hunt during all of those days? Probably not. If I had the opportunity to spend 7 days with Derrick and some amazing new friends while hunting, would I enjoy it? Absolutely.

We took one day off from hunting to go on a photo safari at a nearby game reserve. The John X guys had said that the wives from past trips had gone on the excursion and loved it. It was nice – but it really and truly was JUST like a day hunting. We drove around in a truck looking for animals and got really excited when we found them. We actually saw way more wildlife species hunting with Stix than we did on the photo safari. I don’t think the wives who loved the photographic experience so much realized that they could have had just as much fun going out on the hunt … so ladies, you should try this hunting thing every once in a while. Be open-minded and give it a shot (no pun intended). I may never pull a trigger for the rest of my life, but I still find great joy in seeing Derrick get excited and being a part of the whole experience.

OK so John X Safaris … I have been on many hunts with Derrick throughout our years. We have never, ever been with an outfit like John X Safaris. Having been around the block a few times, I can say with confidence that John X Safaris really and truly is something special. As business owners and leaders, Derrick and I, were observing and analyzing the culture of excellence and family like atmosphere that they have created. Every need or desire was addressed before we even thought about it. From Trish’s pre-hunt correspondence to the arrival at camp. Our glasses were always full; the campfire always received an additional piece of wood when dwindling; a door was always opened for me. The young men who work at John X Safaris have been given some super lesson in style and service, and they were so genuine about it. Clayton even taught me how to Sokkie (African dance similar to our jitterbug) while Ben played the guitar in the “pub” for a couple of hours at the end of the day.

Our beds were turned down in the evenings. Our laundry was done every day. The food was A-mazing … seriously, every meal. Just as much effort went into presentation as taste. Thanks to Lee, Lindiwe, and their kitchen staff, we ate like kings and queens. Ever so thankful to them! I’m so glad Stix pushed us outside of our comfort zone and made us hike a few mountains to help burn some extra calories! The lodge is beautiful – a lovely new construction colonial themed complex centered around original late 1800s “ruins.” The rooms are stunning. The bar is always open. And they help create outings to experience shopping, photo safaris, spa treatments, taxidermist visits, and so much more. John X Safaris creates a destination for the whole family.

Stix was our PH (professional hunter). That’s a real, legit, educated thing over there. Stix is really, really good at what he does. I pretty much coined him Superman. And I can’t really imagine someone being better at what he does while still making every day as fun as he did. Stix is an anomaly of a person — rugged and capable in the world of hunting and wildlife, yet refined and charming in so many ways. He shared his love for Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and opera music, mixed in with some Eminem and Linkin Park. Educated at a high-end boarding school and studied at university to be a finance and accounting mastermind, he can spot a Vaal Rhebok on a mountain a thousand yards away like nobody’s business. He drinks green tea (and suffers much persecution for it from the rest of the PH’s), speaks three languages, kayaks marathons, and was “beaten by his English grandmother if he didn’t use the right knife at dinner.” I entered Derrick and Stix’ second year of friendship, and I hope I get to consider him a friend for life as well. His genuine character and kindness equally matches his ability to estimate a half-inch discrepancy on a Vaal Rhebuck horn from an adjacent mountaintop.

Ozzie – oh Ozzie! We were blessed with the addition of a pretty great cameraman from Got the Shot Productions, the filmmaker partner for John X Safaris. For Horizon Firearms, the video footage from a safari is one of the most valuable takeaways after the hunt is said and done. Real life long-range success helps build credibility and kick off conversations, and the budding partnership between John X Safaris and Horizon Firearms is best expressed through footage of our amazing hunts. Ozzie brought a whole new dimension to “Team Awesome” (as I liked to call us). From random video commentary about Frank the Happy Waterbuck and Samuel the South African Snowman, to serving as backseat iTunes DJ, Ozzie kept us laughing the entire week. His appreciation for beauty, his creative eye, his willingness to go above and beyond in all situations, and his mad drone flying skills have created great anticipation of the video we’ll be receiving at the end of the season. Oh and he’s a trail runner who runs 65K trail marathons to stay fit for packing his camera gear around the mountains – who does that?!

Jimmy, Olwethu, Puie, and Ivan were trackers, which is also a legit thing in South Africa. These fellas had been trained by PH’s to serve as their right hand men. Trackers make almost three times as much money as ranch hands (before tips) so their role is an honorable and coveted job in their culture. These guys are extremely valuable to any given safari. They are REALLY good at spotting wildlife (in our case, really tiny animals far, far away). They are also really good at climbing giant mountains as if they were child’s play. They help recover animals via sight, memory, blood trailing, or literally following vague tracks that were left by the hunted animal. Then they skin like a boss. The whole experience wouldn’t be the same without them, while observing how they live and interact with their world is a fascinating experience on its own. Jimmy is usually Stix’ head tracker, but Jimmy’s son had his “coming out” ceremony the week we were there. This process is the most important time in a young man’s life and occurs in their mid teen years. Apparently, they are beaten by their own tribesmen, sent into the wilderness for 3 weeks to survive, and occasionally visited by various men in their community who impart wisdom. If they survive, they are then circumcised (the old school way), declared a man, and receive a huge celebratory party. True story. So Stix engaged a variety of trackers during our time there.

Have I mentioned the stars yet? Try hanging out in the southern hemisphere in a place far from city lights … the stars will blow your mind. Ozzie stayed up till 2 am one night to capture a time-lapse of the stars for the Horizon Firearms video. I feel like we will be receiving a treasure. Ozzie used the cabin that Derrick and I stayed in as the fixed character in the time-lapse. As we slept, the millions of stars danced above us, moving in a perfect trajectory as the earth rotated on its axis through the night. Oh, and I saw the Southern Cross for the first time while Stix taught us how the sailors used it to find due south. Until the iPhone compass didn’t exactly agree, then we determined that the stars were broken!

When it was all said and done, I left a small piece of my heart in South Africa. I got comfy in my backseat spot in Stix’ truck, and I experienced the highs and lows of the hunt right along with the guys. While in Africa, Derrick kicked off his quest for the Tiny Ten by harvesting a Steenbuck, Klipspringer and Vaal Rhebok. He also added a beautiful Waterbuck, Common Springbuck and Black Springbuck. For the Vaal Rhebok, we journeyed to one of the highest points in the Karoo climbing the Sneeuberge mountain range. For the Klipspringer, we scaled a 1000 foot mountain to get 100 yards closer to the tiny animal. For the Waterbuck, we had a view of the bright blue Indian ocean and gorgeous sand dunes. We got skunked by the Common Duiker and heartbroken by the Mountain Reedbuck. And we enjoyed two gorgeous lodges, the wonder of the stars, lots of campfires and ridiculously good food. Ladies…. go on adventures. Have a great attitude. Meet new people. Ask questions to learn. Sympathize with new cultures. Challenge the norms of your life. Be your man’s best friend. Experience God in a very special way. Make memories and friends that will last a lifetime!

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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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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“Eleven official languages, numerous native tongues, dozens of tribes, and yet not one native word for stranger…..”

Africa 2010.....

That was South Africa 2010. The world came to view the greatest show on earth and South Africa produced a Soccer World Cup that will be spoken about for generations to come. Our country was vibrant and the soccer fever spilt over our boundaries and united Africa like never before.

While Africa was celebrating, the world’s economic recession was taking its toll on the amount of travelers and hunters from abroad. It goes without saying that season 2010 was about survival and a time of reflection on the quality of one’s product.

We visited the USA, Spain and Scandinavia, and enjoyed a variety of American, Spanish, Scandinavian, Mexican and Canadian clientele. Our season started in March this year with our last hunts finishing in November. We are once again proud to report a near 60% return clientele, a direct result of the progress we’re making in not wanting to be the biggest, but certainly the best.

Our "camps" in the south....

This year was the first season of our new John X Safaris website. All reports indicate that the new site is serving our hunters better than ever before. For those of you who are yet to visit the site, take a minute and enjoy our new fully updated web page – www.johnxsafaris.co.za. We’ve completed loading this past seasons “Trophy Room”  – go along and see all the trophies that weren’t highlighted on our weekly Blogs. There are over 200 pictures to view!

John X Safaris entered the social media front for the first time with an interactive John X Blog and Face Book Fan Page.  With over 1000 subscribers per month, our John X Blog has proven to be more than a hit. Now our hunters receive news, reviews and hunts on offer, on a weekly basis, ensuring nobody misses out on the action from Africa.

John X Safaris 2010

2010 saw the realization of a dream with the launch of our very own John X Safaris Coffee Table Book. The book includes all the hunts and hunters from Season 2010. It gives the travelling hunter an idea of our outfit and highlights our operation as one of the leading Safari destinations in Southern Africa. If you’re still searching for that perfect Christmas gift, look no further. “John X Safaris 2010” will be the highlight under the tree this festive season.

The hunting as always was superb....

Our early season hunters had to contend with hot and dry conditions in South Africa, which continued throughout most of the year. While the Eastern Cape was caught in one of the worst droughts in living memory, our early hunts in Mozambique were experiencing extremely wet conditions. Nevertheless our hunters enjoyed phenomenal success. By not only placing the focus on the hunter and trophy quality, but by bringing the standard of the experience for the non-hunter on safari up to par with the rest of our operation, has proven to be the difference this season. This doesn’t mean we slacked off on hunting or trophy quality, on the contrary we upped our game and our Professional Hunters proved once again why they’re some of the finest in the industry. Season 2010’s quality speaks for itself….

The drought was taking its toll in most areas throughout the Eastern Cape, never the less we still managed to find some "green" areas. Vance Hrechkosy took the monster of the season with his 54'' East Cape Kudu.

The "Boss" of hogs! Hugh Friedline came to Africa on the quest for a big Warthog. It doesn't often work out this well when one wants something that badly. For Hugh, it was a match made in heaven when he and Professional Hunter, Carl van Zijl, bumped into this 15.5'' Warthog.

Choosing the "best" Eland this season, proved to be one of the hardest calls to make. Quite a few came to mind, but Chris Petersen and Tony Indovina's bulls from earlier this season rivalled this particular bull the most. If you were after the long-horned Eland, then the bull we've settled on will not appeal to you. If you are the kind of hunter who wants to be part of the old Eland hunting club, then Gustavo's 12 year + Cape Eland bull would appeal to you. It boasted a navy blue dewlap that jolted its body into rhythm at every step. The tuft of main on the forehead was dark and plated, with horns brimmed down into blunt ivory daggers.

Even though there were many good Gemsbuck hunted again this year, there was no doubting that Doug Henrich's Gemsbuck lead the pack this season.

Hunter Robinson's Nyala was right up there in length, but this particular bulls shape and considering this was hunters first African antelope, proved to take the lead for season 2010.

The best Black Springbuck of the year came down to a close tie between the young guns on safari this season. Hunter Robinson's Black Springbuck out measured Kiri Foroni's. Hunter made one of the shots of the year to bag his ram, but in the end, Kiri won the race due to sure determination and pain crawling through some of the thorniest terrain known to man. He then went on to completely out do his ram and take him at under 30 yards. Something tells me he was having fun! (Not sure if his Professional hunters knees shared his enthusiasm!)

Steve Robinson may have hunted the fastest Klipspringer to date, it was also one of the best rams to date. "Better lucky than good!"

Bertil Friman, together with Professional Hunter, Juan MacDonald, and Jose enjoyed the finest day on the ocean this past season. Great going guys!

Filo Recio beat the men to it this year. The best White Springbuck by quite a distance, she went on to bag two!

This season there were no Lion males available on quota. There were however two Lionesses. Marc Hewston hunted hard and got lucky with a beast of a Lioness. Well done Marcus!

At no stage during Dave Monke's Lynx hunt did he have the slightest break in bad luck. He had to endure patience to the very last day, the last chance, but he got himself the cat of the season.

The Rolls Royce of Antelope - Frazer Wadenstorer could be considered one of the luckiest men of the season with his magnificent Sable.

What could be considered one of the very best trophies of the season - Lawrence Trunk with his magnificent Waterbuck bull.

The list is endless and we can go on forever. There are many of you who made the list without a doubt, we chose some of the lucky ones. In the end while we all strive to hunt the next monster, it is not the crux of the matter, on the contrary, it’s the chase of the hunt and the camaraderie of the safari with the chance at the trophy of a lifetime.

We’d like to thank our teams on the ground, our professional hunters who strive for the extra mile and our agents who work hard at keeping us busy. A special word of appreciation goes out to our good friend, Chris Petersen. Chris gave the insight to turn a dream into a reality. Your positive guidance has meant the world to us. Thank you. Our visiting Mexican, Jose, what a year we have shared. Never a dull moment and nothing was ever too much to ask. Gracias Amigo.

 To our entire family – thanks for all the late nights and endless hours of support  when ever it was required. A mammoth thanks to the ladies in our lives, Trish and Lee, the long hours alone at home while we’ve been away on safari could not have been fun or easy. Never the less you were always ready to jump in and help where ever needed, your support is certainly appreciated. 

Last but not least, to all our hunters who have supported us for the past 27 years, your support this season has been no different from any other. We have been privileged to share in the true spirit of your adventure, and we look forward to continuing the growth of our extended John X Safaris family into 2011 & beyond…

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy Hunting Year!

Carl & Gary – John X Families

Please note – John X Safaris will be shutting down from 13 December 2010 until 2 January 2011. For any emergencies or direct enquiries, contact Carl on hunting@johnxsafaris.co.za . Carl will be checking mail once a week.

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

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