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Posts Tagged ‘Gemsbuck’

By Jerry Burch

I have dreamed of hunting in South Africa for over four decades, and this past month I was able to fulfill that aspiration with John X Safaris.  It was everything that I could have imagined, with some benefits that I had never considered before.

The bottom line is that most of my dreams of hunting the Dark Continent were based around long, difficult stalks, for abundant game.  It was probably a bit selfish in nature since it involved just me.  However, on this trip the best decision I made was to take my wife, Jana, and our youngest son, Jacob, with me on the trip.  That made all the difference in the world.

Jacob is 15 and has hunted whitetail deer with me over the past couple of seasons.  Traditionally, we sit in a ground blind and his shots are never over a hundred yards.  He has been successful on four trips and has enjoyed the excitement of the hunt and has helped with the processing of the game.  Jana, on the other hand, has gone out a few times with us and has recently started shooting at our annual family dove hunt that we hold each September in South Texas.  We like hunting together, but big hunting trips were often scheduled as solo endeavors.

So, when I booked my safari this past year I really had to consider whether Jana and Jacob would get as much joy from the expedition.  After all, it was my dream.  Was it worth the extra money?  John X Safaris made part of that problem disappear with their offer to waive the daily hunting fee for hunters under 18, with their #GettingtheyouthhuntingatJXS initiative.  All I had to do was pay the trophy fees for Jacob’s animals.  So, I took a chance and booked all three of us for the trip across the pond and south of the equator.

We arrived in Port Elizabeth late on May 11th raring to go. We were met by our Professional Hunter, Greg Hayes, who would be our guide for our stay with John X Safaris, heading to their home base Woodlands Safari Estate.  We received a great welcome, some incredible food, and retired for the evening to our luxurious suite.  The next morning Jacob was up first, knocking on our door.  He burst in telling stories about everyone he had met and acting quite differently than he does back home, especially at 6 am.  Jana looked at him and said “Who are you?”  Jacob replied “I am Safari Jacob,” and rushed back out the door uttering something about some toast he accidentally forgot about. 

After a light breakfast we gathered our gear and headed to Glen Harry, John X Safaris’s northern base up in the Great Karoo.  It was certainly a luxury having two separate camps so that we could avoid the incoming rain at Woodlands. Something I had not considered during the planning of our trip.

While we obviously enjoyed the hunting and experiences that went with our safari tremendously. Throughout our ten-day safari I found that I had completely overlooked four very important elements about hunting.

First, hunting at its very nature is a team sport.  The memories that are gathered in the field are so much better when they are shared with others.  Especially with people who you see the most, your close family and friends.  We have enjoyed several recollections of the events, the sights, the sounds, the smells, and even the tastes.  Jana never expected the food to be so good and that she would enjoy the game so much.  We have recollected the evenings eating Wildebeest medallions, Kudu schnitzel, Ostrich kebab, Blesbok liver snacks, Kudu stew, Sable steaks, Ostrich burgers, and several different varieties of biltong (jerky).  These memories would have been locked in my head if I had gone alone.  Instead, I share them daily with two people I love dearly.

The second area I had not thought about was the importance of allowing those you are closest with to watch you fulfill your dreams.  During this trip Jana looked at me and thanked me for letting her come and watch me live out my dream in Africa.  It is so important to open your life and allow people to bear witness to all of the events that make you, you.  As a parent, I have certainly felt the joy, and pride, of watching my wife and kids reach major goals.  However, I had never considered that they might enjoy watching me reach mine.  Boy was I wrong.

Third, hunting takes practice and most of Jacob’s hunts back home were for a day or two at the most.  Our ten-day safari allowed Jacob, and me, to really extend ourselves as hunters.

During our trip to the range on the first day I told Greg that Jacob was a good shot from the bench, a great shot lying prone, but that he was uncomfortable shooting from the sticks. Greg told me that the terrain would require Jacob to shoot from the sticks at times, but that he had some tips to help the young hunter.  Jacob’s nerves really got the best of him at the range.  It was a new gun.  Lots of new people.  He had never been so rattled at the range.  “Let’s try the sticks” said Greg.  Our tracker, Bless, put the target up at 50 yards and Greg unfolded the three, six-foot bamboo sticks that were tied at the top to provide a tripod for the gun to rest on.  I placed the forestock of the .270 bolt-action rifle on the sticks.  Jacob stood behind the sticks and tried to find the target through the scope.  Three shots later and Jacob was even more convinced that he hated the sticks.  “It is just so hard to be steady!” he said.

Over the next ten days Jacob’s confidence grew and he took five animals with six shots.  His shortest was a familiar 70 yard hit, while all four of the others ranged from 165 to 200 yards.  He most certainly grew into a great young hunter.

 

Similarly, I was stretched as a hunter.  We hunted every morning and every afternoon.  We hunted on the flat open plains where long shots were needed.  And then we would hunt the valleys and canyons where detecting game and setting up a stalk were needed.  Every hunt was new and I learned so much from Greg.  It seemed like he had a new trick for every situation.  Without a doubt, Jacob and I, will be better hunters for the rest of our lives because of this trip.

And finally, nothing is more gratifying than to see your children find value in something that you enjoy.  Jacob has embraced my love of hunting and I have thoroughly enjoyed having him by my side in the field.  He is a fine companion, and an incredible shot.  During this safari we were both able to find value in the trophies that we took.  However, I think our greatest shared value came from the hunts for animals that will never make it into the record books.  Jacob has embraced the concept of hunting and conservation.  After five years of drought, the amount of available vegetation has been significantly reduced in South Africa.  The land has more mouths to feed than it can sometimes sustain.  A hunt that I will never forget was for an old Blesbok ewe that Jacob made an incredible shot on at 200 yards off a termite mound.  When we got to the animal, Greg opened her mouth and showed that her teeth were worn to the gums.  She had lived out a very long life and Jacob smiled knowing that this trophy would not die from disease or hunger.  Instead, she would feed camp and make room on the plains for other game and much-needed grass.

Looking back, I had originally planned that I would one day take my “one and only” trip to Africa to hunt the animals that I had always dreamed of.  And instead, this morning I texted a good friend to tell him why it was so important for him to take his family on safari with him.  I must admit that my intentions are not completely altruistic.  My goal is to convince him to commit to the trip so that I can start planning our return trip to John X Safaris with him, his family, Jana and all four of our children.  Shared memories, shared dreams, and shared values await us all.

We can’t wait to return to the dark continent…

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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“As the truck veered slightly to the left, with the edge of the road mere yards away from the hidden drop off and the forested valley below, we weren’t in the mood for the usual mutter and jokes that had accompanied our previous two safaris together.”

As the Professional Hunter I was frustrated. I had done more than enough to have scored success up to this point. My hunters and great friends, Aaron Davidson and Garrett Wall, were being the ultimate gentleman, reminding me daily we were only hunting – It wasn’t a matter of life or death.

Of course they were right but that didn’t change the situation. I had planned the safari strategically months before. No stone was left unturned. Meticulous scouting by the entire team would be the only way we could meet the requirements for this particular group. As the leader I had made sure all my PH’s were in the best areas from day one, every hunter needed a good start to settle the nerves.

I chose to explore a lesser known area – more to get out-of-the-way of my team, and to spend some quality time with Aaron and Garrett. We hadn’t seen each other since show season ended in Las Vegas during early February, and I knew them well enough to know they’d enjoy going after some “unconfirmed” local knowledge. My old hunting partner, Niel, had been touting me of late with some news of big Kudu sightings in a range of mountains to the west. It was worth a go – Niel and I had enjoyed our fair share of success on pretty impressive Kudu up until then, I wasn’t about to start doubting one of the best in the game.

We hunted hard that first day, enjoying the optimism that goes hand in hand with any first day on safari. We returned to camp that evening to be met by overjoyed hunters, my team had clearly done their part, but I hadn’t seen much of what Niel had been spotting, so we celebrated in their success. The feeling of a hard day up in the mountains felt pretty good, like Aaron enjoyed reminding us, we had earned our desert after dinner that evening.

The following day we all setoff in various directions again. I’ve never been one to force a certain area onto any of my PH’s, they’ve all got the sufficient experience to run their own hunts, and they all have a secret preferred spot, I trust their decisions and back them to the hilt. They’ve always delivered the goods. After everyone had chosen their bearing and target specie for the day, I called over my tracker, Zwayi.

“You reckon we give it another go?”; I asked him. “Why not!”, came his ever enthused reply. After all we had a packed lunch for the day, an instead of playing it safe, boldness seemed an attractive thought at the time. Zwayi liked hunting the hills to the north-east of camp. He had seen a particular Kudu bull that had him in “gibberish” mere months ago, but we had tried hard to find him again, to no avail. I hadn’t seen the bull, Zwayi was watching a particular draw we had spotted a pair of Klipspringer disappear into, when he had first laid eyes on the bull. I knew my trackers pride and bragging rights back at the skinning shed depended on the size of “his” bull, combined with his experience, there was no doubting he had seen something impressive.

We gave it a good proper go all day, spotting tons of Kudu and numerous other species including Steenbuck, Mountain Reedbuck, Gemsbuck and Hartebeest. A couple of shooter Kudu were spotted and the opportunities should have been taken, but Zwayi was insistent we’d be making a mistake. We all felt the same way, so we passed on them, getting back to camp late that evening – still nought to report.

The following few days it was decided to change our target species, and to get Garrett, fondly known as “G”, back onto the gun. G is a pretty lucky hunter all round, that we had come to learn over the years, so any change of habit would hopefully change our fortunes with Kudu. Or so my superstitious nature assured me.

G didn’t disappoint with a massive Gemsbuck, Black Wildebeest, Zebra and Common Springbuck, then making one of the best shots on a Cape Eland I had ever seen.

We had spotted a group of Eland bulls early, and I wanted to catch them on the flat ground before they headed for the hills. The group consisted of ten to fifteen individuals, with two old brutes leading the way. Their experience told them they needed to be on the high ground by sunup, but their weary old joints after more than ten winters in these mountains kept them away from the higher altitudes for as long as possible each morning, ultimately determining the pace of the group.

The morning was a brisk Karoo winters morning, typical of that time of year. The group was far too interested in catching the first few rays of warmth to notice us slipping over the edge of a small bluff a couple of kilometres up the draw. We quietly made our way along the valley floor, nervous of busting out anything else along the way. As we crested the last bit of blind ground between us and the group I felt a shift in the breeze, the cold air was no longer burning my nose, I could feel it hitting the back of my neck. Immediately the Eland stopped feeding and looked up.

I explained the various scenarios to the guys, both agreeing any further movement would result in the Eland busting out. G crawled forward to find a comfortable spot while Aaron got the camera rolling. I ranged our bull at 810 yards, gave G the reading and let him touch one off from his Gunwerks 6.5 Creedmore.

The shot was perfect. He entered the soft spot just behind the shoulder as the bull was quartered slightly away from us. He took out a lung and the top of the heart. The bull never knew what hit him, let alone any of his accomplices. We sat quietly as the bewildered bachelor group didn’t know what to make of the downed old bull. Soon they moved out and we moved in to admire Garret’s beauty.

It took us most of the day to admire Garrets bull and get him processed – He was a beauty to say the least and a brute of a bull.

While Garrett set off our luck in the right direction I decided to throw in a couple of mountain hunting days in between – getting Aaron onto my favourite species to hunt.

A great Vaal Rhebuck and awesome Klipspringer made for exceptional hunting and even better long-range opportunities to test the equipment under pressure situations up in the high country. It felt much better joining in on the evening festivities once we started adding value to the skulls back at the skinning shed each day. We had scored big up in the Karoo – but still no Kudu. The following day I made a call to head south.

At 03:30 I knocked on the guy’s room door. Time to move boys! I was feeling optimistic – not merely because I’m a believer in the early bird catches the biggest worm, but I knew of a certain Kudu bull that I saw regularly. This particular bull frequented a certain valley in one of our prime areas bordering Addo Elephant National Park. I would see him on the odd occasion each year, but he was always just out of range, and making a move on him always came up unsuccessful due to the terrain he liked to call home. Of late I had seen him each time I hunted the area, in fact I had spotted him the day before Aaron and crew arrived on safari. A bout of cold weather hitting the coast had pushed my decision to head north at the start of the hunt, but now the front had come and gone.

At first light we were in position. The guys, including, Zwayi, and my Jack Russel Terrier, Bongo, had slept for most of the three-hour journey south, while I listened to the morning show on our local radio station, Algoa FM.

We glassed hard and sat patiently that entire day. We took turns on the spotting scope looking over numerous bulls during the course of the day. By nightfall we had looked at a number close to thirty Kudu bulls, but our back sides were sore from patiently sitting and waiting for “the” bull. We rumbled into camp with the sound of the Land Cruisers’ motor being the only company in that evening. Our failure to connect was naturally starting to affect our mood.

The following morning, we were back up at dawn, like any good cowboy, we weren’t about to give up after being bucked off the horse. I chose a versatile area for the day. Anything was going to do. Come what may I needed to find more to look at than just Kudu.

By mid-morning we had seen a bunch of species, before Garrett connected on this great Cape Bushbuck. He was an old warrior, well past his prime, the perfect specimen to have taken.

We were glad about our Cape Bushbuck, but even it wasn’t getting us closer to an elusive Kudu bull. As the truck veered slightly to the left, with the edge of the road mere yards away from the hidden drop off and the forested valley below, we weren’t in the mood for the usual mutter and jokes that had accompanied our previous two safaris together. Each one of us were in that winters morning daze, that period in the day when the sun bakes one into a hibernating mood. The toll of early mornings and last back at camp each evening was starting to wear us down. Our concentration was not where it was meant to be.

Starring at the track ahead of me I noticed a glimmer of light, a reflection of sort, something was moving on the slope ahead of us. I stopped the truck. Raised my 10×42’s and started panicking immediately. I dropped the clutch and let the truck roll back down the hill and out of sight. As it came to a halt the entire crew jumped into action. We had finally found a Kudu bull of magnitude proportion.

We rushed ahead hugging the edge of the two lane track, hoping to snake our way forward unnoticed into a shooting position. My heart was pounding out of my chest. Aaron could see I was clearly shaken by what I’d seen, so he moved even faster than usual. As the range finder beamed back something in the 450 yard range I told the guys to get set up. Garrett was on the camera and Aaron on the gun.

The Kudu bull was still milling about feeding with a group of cows on the slope ahead, with a group of Waterbuck off to the right, but he clearly knew something was up.

Aaron picked him up in his scope immediately, while Garrett located him in the cameras viewfinder. We were set and ready, now all we needed was for the bull to feed out of a clump of light brush into a clearing ahead where a particular Kudu cow had fed out into.

Like clockwork he followed her out, coming to a halt in the clearing. I gave Aaron the go-ahead, he had one final breath, then touched off his shot.

At the crack of the shot the bull looked up, but I could see from his reaction he had not been hit. He started moving within seconds veering back up to his left, looping away into some thick stuff. All this time I had the Swarovski 10×60 fixed on him, hoping to see any sign of weakening – but I knew there would be none. It was a clear miss over his back.

As the bull disappeared out of sight, I backed off the spotting scope lens, hoping not to show my disgust at the situation. I would have backed Aaron’s shot if my life depended on it. I had never seen him miss within 600 up to that point. We were all in shock and clearly disappointed. We had worked so hard for that one opportunity, which was now clearly gone.

Some hours later, after having gathered the gear and our lousy moods, doing what was expected, but clearly not enjoyable, I felt embarrassed for my earlier behaviour. I hadn’t said anything after the shot, but the look must have been one of utmost disgust – for which I was ashamed. Aaron was and would still be a great friend had he hit or missed the bull, I just wasn’t ready for that kind of disappointment when the opportunity had finally come. We had done our time and had a massive bull on the ropes being filmed for a television show back in the US. Don’t let anyone fool you – when the cameras are rolling the pressure is on, especially on the professional hunter.

That evening we shared Garrett’s footage with the rest of the crew back at camp. I knew the bull was big, but I didn’t need to see the look on my guides faces, especially my head PH’s face, Greg Hayes. There was no need for “the one that got away was a monster” story, everyone, including Aaron knew what we had missed out on. The evidence was on the camera.

The following day, after numerous discussions with the rest of my crew, and following Greg’s advice and hunch, we decided to give the area and bull a break. It was day nine of a 10-day hunt. If we were to have 1% chance of seeing him again on the last day of our hunt, then we had to give him space.

We hunted an adjacent area to the big bulls’ range, still going after Kudu, but fairly light-hearted in effort. I kept finding Zwayi on the spotting scope staring back at the range of hills behind us, instead of the valley below – the one we were hunting. Our day proved to be a fairly inconsequential one, we weren’t hung up on our miss anymore, but we weren’t over it either.

Our final morning arrived and we rose well before sunup. By 10am we were enjoying our egg salad breakfast sandwich, trying to find the joy in a great tasting sandwich, hoping to eat away our disappointment. We hadn’t found our bull and the eyes were tired of “seeing” things that clearly weren’t going to turn into Kudu the harder we looked.

At noon I decided we were done. The reality was plain for all to see. We had our chance. We didn’t take it. What gave us the right to think we’d have a second opportunity on a weary old monster? He must have escaped so many a hunter in his day – how else could one explain his sheer size? This bull was no fool.

As to lighten up the mood we found a pretty amazing Waterbuck well over the 30” mark, and at somewhere close to 600 yards Aaron dropped him in his tracks. Reiterating my belief and trust in Aaron as a shooter.

I felt a bit better about things, grasping at the positive attributes of one of the best Waterbuck hunted in South Africa during 2015. Having loaded the Waterbuck, we headed towards the skinning shed. On route we decided to stop off at a side valley for a one last quick glass. We spotted some Kudu, but no bulls in the nearby vicinity. We continued on to the shed and left Zwayi to finish up skinning.

Instead of sitting around the shed I decided it was a far better option to head back to the group of Kudu cows, as just maybe a bull would decide to show itself during the course of the afternoon. Arriving back at the side valley we immediately spotted a mature Kudu bull. We could see it wasn’t “the bull”, but he was of a shape in horns that required a closer look.

Getting to within a mere 200 yards from the feeding bull, we were set and ready to take him, when Aaron paused, looked up at me from his prone position and said; “This isn’t our bull, let’s rather pass on him. We’ll never give this bull the respect it deserves if we took him now.” Aaron was right. By taking a lesser bull after everything we had been through would have left us hollow. Yes – we would have a great Kudu bull, but we’d rather take nothing than just take a bull because it was our last afternoon. We got up, gathered our gear for a last time, and headed over to the lookout in search of our bull for what would be the very last time. It was nearing 5pm – the light was fading fast.

Coming to a halt a couple of hundred yards short of our view-point, most of the truck fixed their binoculars on a group of Eland in the valley below us, when Aaron excitedly shouted out from the passenger seat; “There he is!”

No ways, I thought to myself. It was a long way off, right at the top end of the opposite slope, feeding in a frosted yellow grass clearing. I could see it was a bunch of Kudu, with a bull in the group, but it was not until my spotting scope rested on him and the focus glass cleared that my heart started racing again.

I cleared my emotions before lifting off the glass this time. If we had any chance this late in the day, it was going to take every ounce of knowledge I had of the lay of the land. Inside I felt calm, but on the outside I needed people to move, to realize how little precious shooting light we had left. At best we had 1% chance of having a shot at the bull. But it was still a chance, and we had been at it for ten days – there was no quitting now.

The idea was to race to the edge of the large valley separating our slope from the Kudu’s, before free-wheeling out of sight. Within a couple of hundred yards we would be out of sight. We would then race up the opposite slope to as high as we could make it, without disturbing the group, hoping they’d continue to feed in the clearing they were in.

Our plan started off fairly well. The Kudu hardly noticed the truck 2000+ yards away as it dipped out of sight. The minute I felt it as safe to start-up the motor I did so, increasing our pace down the slope. With numerous s-bends making up our two lane track down the slope, I cut one of the corners too sharp, slashing a massive gash in my front left tyre. The truck came to a sudden and bumpy halt.

Having taken stock of our situation we decided we had no chance with the remaining light if we didn’t use the truck to make it up some of the way on the opposite slope. With Zwayi back at the skinning shed taking care of capping out our Waterbuck, Garrett and Aaron jumped into action with me. It was something pretty special to see – right in the middle of the African bush three guys were going about the business of changing a flat as if it were a pit stop in a Formula 1 championship. In no time we were back at it and had come to a halt halfway up the opposite slope.

We grabbed our gear and made a dash for it. Long gone was the fear of busting out anything ahead of us. The lay of the land would hopefully protect us if anything did bust out – this was not the time to be concerned about what could and what wouldn’t. We marched on as fast as our legs and weary souls could take us.

Cresting the ridge, I realized the Kudu were actually on the opposite slope of a hidden valley nestled amongst a heavily forested section of the main ridge. Things were looking good. But the light as now fading from fairly poor to terrible. There was an open section with zero cover we had to cross to get within 500 yards to even start seeing the clearing they were last spotted in when we came to an abrupt halt, facing off with five White Rhino.

I’m not sure who was more startled? The Rhino or us! I threw caution to the wind, hoping the characteristically milder natured White Rhino would clear out without giving us or our Kudu a run for our money. Luckily they did. Two hundred yards further we settled down in the grass. For once things were looking up – we had front row seats to a beautiful sunset, a shooting position as perfect as could be, and a view of a group of Kudu feeding some 400+ yards ahead of us, unaware of any lurking danger. It was now or never.

I glassed as hard as I could trying to find our bull. I could see three cows feeding, with a couple more appearing from time to time. Then suddenly my eye was drawn to a single bright orange Aloe Vera flower about 100 yards below the feeding group. Right there next to the flower was a Kudu bull thrashing a particular thorn tree scent marking as if his life depended on it. I pointed Aaron towards the bull in the thick stuff next to the bright orange flower, while G located it in his camera. I had a quick glimpse through the spotting scope for one last time when I came to the realization I was looking at a completely different bull. Here was a big bull, but not our bull. I put him on ice for the time being and gave the guys the news. We turned our attention back to the feeding group in the clearing.

It could not have been more than 2-3 minutes, which felt like an eternity, but for the life of me we couldn’t find our bull. Just as I started glassing back down towards the orange flower bull I noticed a quick-moving glint of a reflection below the furthermost cow in the group. There was a Boerbean tree, bright red in flower, and from behind it protruding to its right was an off-green yellow looking shrub. And from that shrub I could now clearly see two shinning white tips moving about as the bull browsed in the cool evening breeze.

Aaron and Garrett settled on the bull, each in their now familiar roles when it came to our pursuit of Kudu. The bull started feeding out. First there was more to the horns than just the flaring tips, then the head, and finally he stepped into the gap. He was quartering away ever so slightly when Aaron touched off the 6.5 Creedmore. The bull lunged forward, then jumped high into the air before kicking out and flashing his bright white tail, before disappearing into the undergrowth and out of sight. We sat in silence.

There was nothing that needed to be said in that precise moment. Just for 10 seconds we sat to allow the moment to sink in. This time there was no doubting. I watched the bullets’ impact right behind the shoulder, in the sweet spot, where there’s only ever one result.

As the seconds passed and so too the crashing of the undergrowth on the opposite bank subsided our emotions took over. It had been a hunt of epic proportion, climatic to the very end of day ten. It was possibly the most emotionally challenging rollercoaster of a hunt I had ever guided up to that point, let alone been privileged to have been a part of.

He arguably is the most magnificent looking Kudu I have ever guided.

There have been many great hunts over the years, but very few that would actually play out like the 1% Kudu. Experience tells us we should never have gotten a second chance at our bull, the reality of digging deep and not giving up right to the very end is what brought us back and took us out to the field time and again. The 1% Kudu is why we hunt.

Side note – For those interested in viewing the show of this epic hunt, be sure not to miss Gunwerks Long Range Pursuit on The Sportsman Channel for the re-airing of this show.

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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giraffe

As I started my final forward from Lalibela during late September, I found myself gazing out over the game rich plains deep in thought… the moment had finally come for us to say goodbye and close a chapter on twenty memorable years. I would be lying if I were to try to convince you that at that moment I was not feeling overly sentimental or emotional. Twenty years of dreaming, sacrifice, hard work, and achievement. It had been a journey like few.

If we were to rewind the clock by twenty years, to be more precise, October 1996, and I were to tell you about that first sunny afternoon on Hillside Farm, Sidbury, East Cape, South Africa, you would have been excused for being a pessimist like the many others. Rick and Sue van Zyl had just acquired the first property in what would become today’s world-renowned Lalibela Game Reserve, and the home of John X Safaris.

At first it was a meager colonial homestead turned into a “rustic camp” for the few loyal hunters, who unbeknownst to them were playing a major role in getting the dream of a wildlife reserve off to a slow, but gradual start. Soon the first lodge, Lentaba, was completed, giving our hunters a taste of what was to come. With the acquisition of more land and the re-introduction of 22 game species and the first White Rhino, things started coming together nicely.

With 20 000 acres, a lodge, one of the Big 5, over 3000 head of game, and an eager team we set off to launch Lalibela to tourists in the summer of 2002. The concept was a brilliant one; our hunters would occupy and utilize the winter hunting months, while the tourists would take up the summer months, when hunters preferred to stay home for their traditional northern hemisphere hunting season.

By 2003 a second lodge, Mark’s Camp, was completed, the very year both Elephant and Cape Buffalo, joined the White Rhino as members of the Big 5, once again roaming free where they had not set foot for over a hundred years. A masterstroke in developments it turned out to be, with the reserve taking an even bigger step with the introduction of free roaming Lion, Leopard, and Cheetah in the early part of 2004. With the addition of a further 10 000 acres and completion of our flagship lodge, Treetops Luxurious Tented Camp, a first of its kind, during September that same year, Lalibela had established itself and was now a successful brand in both the hunting and tourist industries respectively.

Throughout the years and the numerous developments we have been privileged to have grown as a family, calling a place such as Lalibela, home. It is something that we have not taken lightly in our responsibility to the land, wildlife, our people, hospitality, and business. Your support and safari contributions have allowed us to build and live an extraordinary life – one we could not have been a part of without each and every one of you – after all, Lalibela only became a reality because of you and your commitment to conservation through hunting. It has been a journey we are immensely proud of and an achievement of a goal reached through untold sacrifice and hard work.

With that said we had reached for the stars and fallen amongst them, but something was lacking, it was time to move on… time to let go of the familiarity. It was time to go back to the beginning, to our people, to John X Safaris and the most enjoyable years of our lives.

New Beginnings – Woodlands Game Reserve

“And suddenly you just know… it’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings…”

Woodlands Game Reserve – 30 000 Acres, big 5, plains game, over 2500 head of game, 20 + species, rifle, archery, wing shooting, and a brand new colonial safari lodge opening in March 2017 + the very same trusted team – Dedicated to hunters and hunting only. 

We will still be offering our multi-area option safaris in both the coastal and northern Karoo regions, like we’ve been doing for the past 33 years, with Woodlands becoming our coastal base. Those hunters who have booked safaris can rest assured that Woodlands will be everything and more of what Lalibela could have ever offered as a destination.

We have found our new home. It’s a hidden gem like no other, and you’re invited to join us on your next safari as we turn the industry on its head and launch the greatest hunting destination the East Cape has ever seen.

Until your next safari – We thank you for being a part of the Safari World of John X Safaris during the past year and the many before. It has been a privilege hosting and having you on safari. Your support and friendship means the world to us. A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Carl & Family

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

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

Welcoming back the crew and my Gunwerks rifle to Africa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Each morning they’d head into the hills…

And each evening their quality spoke for itself…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#GunWerked during 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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IMG_1284During the month of May, right at the heat of the rut, after the first frost had turned the summer green into a dull yellow, we welcomed a fun bunch of hunters from Texas. The group comprised of our old friends, Steve Travis and Glynn Underwood, as well as first timers, Derrick Ratliff, Luciano Batista, Matt Grim, Sam Stacks, Rolando Rodriguez, and Erik Isacson. Their hunt would be one of our biggest groups for the year taking on everything the East Cape had to offer, from the fleet-footed Klipspringer up in the mountains of the north to the ever diverse plains of the Great Karoo. From the north we headed south to the coast hunting a variety of specialized East Cape species coming away with a great bag of trophies spread across the entire group.

While the trophy photos tell a story of an immensely successful hunt for all involved, they do not capture the full extend of the fun and camaraderie shared among all during the course of this safari. These guys came to Africa to see, taste, touch, smell, and hear her to the fullest each day – living out their experiences as if there was no tomorrow. GTS Productions and their crew joined us on our hunt, fading into the background while capturing this once in a lifetime hunt for all. Enjoy the hunts, the various characters, and the many laughs along the way – These guys were the epitome of fun – They were ‘The Great Texan Invasion”…

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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The month of May saw us welcome back many old faces, with some bringing along new friends to experience South Africa for the very first time. Others joined us for their annual hunt to the East Cape picking up the shooting sticks with old friends as if their previous safaris had never ended. While I am yet to meet a hunter who has not thoroughly enjoyed his safari with us,  nothing quite comes close to the compliment of a returnee. For that individual to choose John X Safaris as his/her choice destination for a second, third, fourth, and in some instances even 9th trip, speaks volumes louder than words.

Dave and Ruth Stark were back on their second hunt with Professional Hunter, Greg Hayes, looking to pursue another Kudu, and then complete their Springbuck slam. They headed up into a newly acquired concession, bagging a number of great animals along the way. Their Lechwe, Cape Eland, and Common Springbuck, proved to be certain highlights on their hunt, as well as the continues pursuit of the kind of Kudu Greg was after for Dave.

The rut was running late, and even with the best planning and optimum moon conditions the bulls just weren’t moving like they usually do at mid-May each year. Never the less Dave came out more determined each morning giving it his all. After having seen numerous shooters the Kudu gods finally won this round, but we are certain Dave will be back to give it another go in a couple of years time.

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With the departure of the Stark’s we welcomed our old Spanish friends from Camino Real Hunting Consultants. Alvaro, Danny, and Roberto, had become great friends while hunting various destinations throughout Asia, Europe, and North America. Their passion for free-range mountain hunting in the wide expanses of the Great Karoo is what drew them to the East Cape on this particular hunt.

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The top priority on this safari would be the manner in which they preferred to hunt. In saying this it wasn’t that it differed from our usual approach, but it took on a greater meaning once one understood their motto; “Don’t turn down what the mountain offers.” 

And they didn’t….

Klipspringer, Vaal Rhebuck, Mountain Reedbuck, and East Cape Kudu, hunted hard each day from dawn to dusk. Having experienced Tanzania previously, neither Danny or Roberto had envisaged the East Cape to offer the diversity and possibilities on free range game and the hunting thereof. With our multi-area greater conservancies in the Karoo we could offer them something they could never have experienced elsewhere in Africa.

With the main priority species having hit the salt we turned our attention to further free range opportunities in the north before heading back south to the coast for the final leg of our trip.

The entire hunt turned out to be a fantastic trip with three great guys, all sharing the same enthusiasm to hunt hard, never turning down what the hunting gods offered. All three were proven excellent marksman, making numerous unbelievable shots throughout their stay with us. But in the end it doesn’t matter how hard you hunt or how well you shoot – it all starts with the hunters attitude, which proved to be the biggest winner of all. Luck will naturally come to those who choose to have fun, but none more so than the luck of a Spaniard hunting two dream pigs within the space of 12 hours.

Felicidades cablleros! Que caceria la que disfrutamos con ustedes!

By the time late May arrived we eagerly awaited John and Lynn Nowlin’s arrival for their 2016 hunt, which would see them embark on their ninth trip with John X Safaris, a special feat for all involved. Having guided them throughout Southern Africa they decided it was time to return to the point of their original “first” experience of the dark continent. This time they would be after a couple of mountain dwellers, with the usual opportunistic favorites being their species of choice. Professional Hunter, Ed Wilson, once again led the hunt in what has become something of a tradition.

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Having hunted a Vaal Rhebuck on a previous safari, the Nowlin’s were game for a second dual in the mountains. This time John hunted a challenging Klipspringer and this amazing 9″ Vaal Rhebuck.

Both John and Lynn made the most of their opportunities on Caracal over hounds, Impala, Cape Bushbuck, Mountain Reedbuck and Warthog, but nothing could come close to the Eland they bumped into on their very last day.

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For one to even start to comprehend the quality of this animal, one has start and end at the mop and dewlap on this once in a lifetime Cape Eland. While we hunt many great bulls each year – this one in particular will take some beating by the time our season gets wrapped up in late October. How fitting an end it proved to be on the Nowlin’s last day of their 9th hunt with John X Safaris. More deserving folks one cannot get – the harder they try, the luckier they keep getting…. the more often they come.

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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