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Posts Tagged ‘Concession Hunt’

Ten years have passed since last I visited Tanzania. We hunted the famous Selous Game Reserve on that particular safari, coming away with a host of great animals, most notably the biggest Cape Buffalo hunted in the Selous that year.

A brute of a bull breaking the magical 45″ mark, finally scoring 47″.

After that initial hunt, things changed in Tanzania, with the dramatic up listing of rates and various tax laws playing the biggest role to why we had not returned to hunt this breath-taking country again. Over the course of those ten years our hunters chose South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Namibia, and Zambia.  But then 2016 came around and I received my annual “hunt planning” mail from my great friend, Steve Travis.

“I’m turning 50 buddy! I want to go Tanzania. I’ve always dreamt about it. Can you put something together?”

This was the big 5!0! Soon we had some options on the table and then we booked the hunt with Jaco Oosthuizen from Game Trackers Africa – our hosts in Tanzania.

We planned to hunt the Moyowasi/Kigozi Game Reserve, situated in Tanzania’s north-western corner up against Burundi and Rwanda. Our block would be the Kigozi unit with its miombo forests and central flood plain playing host to both big 5 and plains game. We were booked and now the waiting game began as we ticked off the days and months leading up to late September 2017.

Hunting has a way of picking you up, giving you hope…. and then spitting you out.

We had arrived to Dar Es Salaam on September 15, I had flown in from South Africa, while Steve came via Europe, stopping over in Nairobi, Kenya, along the way.

With plans set for us to catch a charter out the following morning we were thrown a massive curve ball by United Airlines, who had left Steve’s bags and ammo in Chicago, while they sent the rifles along without a hassle in the world. As ridiculous as that sounds, but there we were – stuck in Dar waiting for luggage.

Meanwhile Steve’s wife Haylee was being a champ back home working the airlines overtime trying to speed up the bag delivery. By noon that first day we made a call to fly out commercially to Mwanza, situated on the shores of Lake Victoria.

We finally got in late that evening and woke the next morning to the amazing sights and sounds of the largest lake in Africa – and then caught our charter to Kigozi. The bags would follow in days to come.

The first few days saw us exploring the area and getting to see the various species of game. We spotted East African Kudu, Topi, Roan, Sable, East African Bushbuck, Lichtenstein Hartebeest, Giraffe, Spotted Hyena, Bohor Reedbuck, Honey Badger, Sitatunga, Warthog, Bushpig, Baboon, Vervet Monkey, Oribi, Duiker, plenty of Bush babies on our way back to camp in the evenings, and of course Cape Buffalo.

The place is beautiful with amazing sun rises and sunsets, and is a game rich area compared to many other Tanzanian concessions. Seeing game does however not mean you’re killing game when it comes to concession hunting. By the end of day four we had not bothered the skinners yet. Let’s say we were desperate for action. The entire crew were working extremely hard, trying everything possible to break our run of bad luck.

Most mornings we would rise at 4:30 am, getting back in the evenings between 21-22:00. Sleep was not a priority, but still our luck wouldn’t break.

On day five we decided to give the plains game a break and concentrate on Steve’s all-time favourite, Cape Buffalo. We stuck to our routine, wasting no time on any other game along the way and headed deep into the swamp.

And just when you thought you had been spat out, the hunting gods smile down on you…

We hadn’t spotted much until about noon, when suddenly three old Dugga boys appeared on the distant horizon. Desperate for action we set off on a long stalk.

Soon we were in range and then all hell broke loose. First the bull on the right, then the bull in the middle, and then the bull on the left. In a matter of two minutes Steve had done it again.

He had tagged out with three Buffalo in the matter of twenty minutes on the flood plains of Mozambique, and now had done so again in Tanzania. A feat I thought I’d never see, let alone see repeated again by the same guy.

With the Buffalo firmly in the salt plans took a whole new course. We now had meat, lots of it, and a Leopard suddenly became a hot topic of debate.

Soon we were hanging baits, a Leopard was on the cards.

With the baits hung we headed back out to the swamps for Sitatunga, giving the various baits time to attract our desired quarry.

It turned out to be a long morning in the swamps with no opportunities on the much-anticipated Sitatunga, it did however provide us with magnificent pictures of these shy, and rarely photographed animals.

Before leaving camp that morning we had made an arrangement with Dennis, the camp manager to clock in at 11am via satellite phone. We had left Baraka and Chumani to check baits.

After only one night we had a hit. Baraka was excited, urging us on to get out of the swamps and start heading towards the struck bait. He on the other hand would start collecting material to get the blind built. It would be a race against the clock. The guys knew this old Tom well. He first came to bait 3 years ago, at that stage he was already a big cat. He had a habit of feeding constantly for the first two to three evenings, but then became sporadic. We needed to get in that evening.

The team pulled together like a well-oiled machine, and by 17:00 we were in the blind.

As the birds went about their business like they do in Africa each evening, getting ready for the night ahead, we sat in silence, listing for anything that may give away the Leopards presence. At first it was the Spur Fowl and then the Guinea Fowl, they sounded nervous, he was here … but we couldn’t see him. We sat in silence, barely breathing as the sweat dripped from our brows in the blistering hot blind.

And then just as we started wondering if he’d be in during the required day light hours, the sound of nails digging deep into the bark of a tree broke the silence around us. He was on the bait.

He paused for a second, looking around nervously, and then confidently lay down and started feeding. There were two cats in the area, a male and female, and while this cat looked like a beast, we still had to make certain he was a legal male, giving Steve the opportunity to enjoy viewing this beautiful animal.

I’m sure it was mere minutes, but it felt like hours, he just lay there feeding, and all this time the sun was setting. Legal shooting time was running out. And then he got up and there was no doubting it was him.

Steve got the go-ahead. At the thunder of his 416 Rigby the Leopard disappeared out of sight, and all we could hear was the sound of the grass breaking in our direction with a few deep grumbles. And then there was silence. We sat quietly giving him time, making sure he was down. A wounded Leopard is no walk in the park, and we weren’t up for a walk with an irate cat.

Steve had hit him two inches back, taking out both lungs, and in the process earning a cat of some magnitude.

A beast well past his prime, carrying the battle scars of a Tom on his way out. Down in condition he still weighed in at over 170 pounds with a tip to tail measurement of 8 feet 9″. A once in a lifetime cat.

With our cat in the back we headed to camp in the chorus of the crew chanting away “Kabubi-Kabubi!” The festivities had begun!

We woke the following morning still in awe at what we had achieved. So much had changed in two days. At the start of day 5 our spirits were down and out, now Steve was back – he had to dig deep inside to really find out how badly he wanted it. He found it. And we went back Sitatunga hunting.

Our efforts once again came up empty-handed, but we did manage to hunt a great Topi on the way back to camp that evening.

With time running out we gave the Sitatunga our all on day nine. Many a hunter has left Africa without a Sitatunga. We weren’t planning on Steve being one of those. Their numbers were excellent in the area we were hunting, we just needed to find the right patch of papyrus.

After two drives we hadn’t seen a big bull, when Triphone, one of the trackers suggested a small patch of papyrus off in the distance. He had a good feeling about it. We went with his gut instinct and Steve literally became one of the luckiest hunters I know.

Our last day was spent looking for a Hippo, with a nice Lichtenstein Hartebeest crossing our path late that last afternoon, but the swamps proved to be too tough a terrain to hunt a weary old Hippo bull. We had used up our luck you could say. And that was fine for all involved. That’s why we hunt. You enjoy the good times when the hard yards had you doubting yourself and the process involved. It was time to catch our charter… western Tanzania had spoiled us for quality in both scenery, wildlife, and experiences.

In closing I’d like to thank Jaco and his crew. You guys were professional and a pleasure to work with in the field. From Suleiman, who met us upon arrival in Dar Es Salaam to Dennis our camp manager and Baraka our Masai tracker, aka the Dugga Boy. Thomas was our driver, come mechanic, come magic man. This guy will put any first world mechanical workshop to shame right in the middle of nowhere with a tool box and a couple of bottles of oil for good measure. Chumani who ran the other truck daily, putting in as much effort as every crew member on our truck, never once stopped smiling, making him an asset to all around.  Our senior tracker, Ntacho, aka the boss, as we fondly renamed him, was a man cut from a different cloth. At 62 he could run, climb, jump, drive Sitatunga and Hippo all day long through the papyrus infected swamp, while still providing us with untold laughter and fun along the way. We’re still hoping to convince him to part take in the Senior Olympics – a special guy to say the least. There were so many more to thank who kept the show on the road, but these guys made all the difference daily. Thank you so much.

Then last but not least, to a friend like few, Steve Travis – Happy birthday mate. This one tested us to the point of breaking, but once again we met the challenge head on, coming away with an experience worth a 50th celebration. Thanks for the memories… here’s to you and many more.

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 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!

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