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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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Johnny Posey, Eason Maykus, Todd Allen, Darren Vohs and Bruce Heikkinen joined us on safari during late June, right at the peak of the rut. It was great having Johnny back. He has become such a good friend and big supporter over the years, that hosting him with his friends at Woodlands during our opening season was a must for all of us at John X Safaris.

Our hunt would incorporate both our coastal region, hunting in and around Woodlands Safari Estate, as well as a trip to the Great Karoo, before joining the ladies down in Cape Town. Heather, Simone and Elise Allen, together with Sydney Posey, spent a few days with us on safari before heading down the Garden Route to Cape Town.

For first timer Darren Vohs, it would literally be a life-changing experience.

Darren teamed up with Professional Hunter, Lourens Lombard, and tracker Spinach, making for a formidable team. For a first timer Darren had set his sights on a number of “not so first timer” species, but we weren’t complaining. The rut was on and who doesn’t love a challenge when it comes to hunting?

A Kudu is always a top priority for any hunter to Africa, but apart from the elusive grey ghost the guys hunted hard for Gemsbuck, Impala, Nyala, Springbuck, Black Wildebeest, Mountain Reedbuck, Bushpig and Cape Bushbuck.

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The broad smiles and images pays tribute to what turned out to be an amazing first trip for Darren, very similar to that of Bruce Heikkinen.

Bruce was a late joiner to our hunt after overhearing Johnny tell a fellow hunting buddy about his upcoming safari to Africa. It kind of summed up Bruce in the way he did things. He goes big or goes home…. When he says he’s here for a good time and not a long time, you better know he means it!

Bruce joined PH, Ross “Stix” Hoole, and tracker, Thando Xolo, for the first half of his hunt before teaming up with Ed Wilson for his last leg of his safari up in the Great Karoo.

A Cape Buffalo, Sable, Eland, Lechwe, Nyala, Waterbuck, Blue and Black Wildebeest, Zebra, Gemsbuck, Kudu, Impala and Bushpig made for a massive hunt. Not knowing much about Bruce up until meeting him on the first day of the safari we all soon learned the man could shoot.

Bruce proved to be not only a great shot, but a lucky hunter too. He however was not the luckiest hunter of all. That tag belonged to none other than Johnny Posey.

If you’ve done your time in Africa, it is said that the rub of the green starts leaning your way more often than not, but on this particular hunt it was more evident than ever before.

If our Sable and Lechwe were the starts PH, Carl van Zyl, and tracker Oluwhethu, were hoping for, then hold your breath for our Tiny 10 quest.

We headed out early one morning from Woodlands, striking a bearing south-east towards the ocean and the coastal forests Blue Duiker inhabit in large numbers along our rugged coastline.

We typically hunt Blue Duiker over Jack Russel Terriers, or make use of blinds over waterholes in the forest. On this particular occasion we opted for the blind option as conditions were dry and the Duiker were drinking regularly.

At times blind hunting can be something of a boring affair, but one thing you can be assured of when it comes to forest blind hunts, is that the bird life is jaw-dropping. The Turacos are particularly striking in both sound and colour.

While peering out of our blind, day dreaming about the various hunts we had shared over the course of the first few days, we noticed through the only hole in the forest, a red coloured animal feeding on the opposite ridge. At first we brushed it aside as a young Bushbuck female, but then our boredom got the better of us and we turned the spotting scope in its direction. And to our amazement we saw it was a Cape Grysbuck feeding in the morning sun. A rare sighting to say the least.

It was too far to tell if it were a male or female, but the opportunity required a closer look. We gathered our gear and made a dash for it. Knowing the Grysbuck would not be feeding out for too much longer we pushed hard, making up the distance between it and us as fast as our legs would carry us. Reaching the pre-determined ridge, we had plotted out previously as a good place to get a shot from, we crested too fast, spooking the Grysbuck in the process. Carl was mad for his silly error, but he had luckily seen it was a fantastic ram before the sly old guy disappeared into the undergrowth. Feeling despondent and ready to give up, knowing our chances were no more than 1/100, Johnny urged us to go on and circle back around.

And 1/100 is the only 1 we needed. This one belonged to Johnny. Through sheer determination we harvested the first ever Cape Grysbuck in daylight. An unheard of feat in the hunting world where Grysbuck are usually totally nocturnal.

With our Grysbuck in the salt and our attitudes in a festive mood we headed back to our Blue Duiker blind. The day was still young and we weren’t about to give up on our original mission.

We had barely sat down for twenty minutes when in wondered this monster from the undergrowth. The hunting gods were smiling on us as much as one could have ever hoped for.

By noon we were heading back to camp to celebrate two of the most difficult critters of the Tiny 10. It turned out to be one of the greatest days we’ve ever experienced in guiding the Tiny 10, and not to mention doing it with Johnny, a more deserving friend than him would be hard to find.

With Johnny smashing records left, right, and centre, Todd was turning his very first African safari into a huge success with PH, Martin Neuper, and tracker Oluwhethu.

Starting off his hunt with a 31’’ Waterbuck set the benchmark high for what was to come.

Todd’s Kudu was the pick of the bulls on the safari, a beautiful animal, hunted for over the course of four days. His Nyala, Cape Eland and Cape Bushbuck wrapped up a spiral slam reeking of quality, while his Sable gave you the feeling of an old warrior.

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Todd’s pigs were however the pick for all of us guides. While we all know PH, Martin Neuper, is one of the best guides around, he sure has a knack of pulling the rabbit out of the hat from time to time.

Finding a Bushpig in broad daylight takes luck, actually hunting it successfully takes skill. Then top that off with a boss Warthog in trying drought stricken circumstances, and you’ve got yourself a hunt like few have experienced.

Todd came out tops when it came to pigs on this particular safari!

For Eason Maykus, a fellow first timer from Dallas, Africa provided an experience like he could not have imagined.

The mountains of the north in particular captured his imagination and set the spirit of Africa alive with in him…

Sharing his hunt with Johnny and PH, Carl van Zyl, he thrived in the tough conditions. Loving every step of the way to the top of the mountains. We harvested Waterbuck, Hartebeest, Black Wildebeest and Springbuck. Coming away with bag to be proud of.

Eason’s Gemsbuck took more than your average Gemsbuck, giving us the run around up in the high country. We had spotted the group early on during the course of the morning and we decided to concentrate on two or three individuals that had stood out in the spotting scope at 1500 yards +.

We climbed higher and higher as the day grew on, hoping to surprise the feeding group by coming over at them from above.At one point we had found a second group we had not spotted originally, making for a tricky situation on an already bare mountain. We decided to back off and allow the lay of the land and the feeding Gemsbuck to give us the opportunity we were after.

With patience our opportunity came, and with that an opportunity at a Gemsbuck to remember. Hunted for the hard way, up where the air is thin and the eagles soar, where memories and friendships were made for life. It was an epic hunt.

From the Karoo we headed back south for one last evening of fun at Woodlands, before saying goodbye to Bruce and Darren, while the rest of us, including Trish, joined the girls down in the wine country of the Cape.

We started off our visit to the Cape in Franschoek, a beautiful little town right in the heart of the wine country.

The setting was spectacular…

We spent the next few days exploring some of the well-known wineries, but mostly concentrating on the boutique style smaller vineyards. Both Johnny and Todd enjoy their wine tremendously, which allowed us all to learn a great deal about the various wines with their aging and flavouring processes.

Before we knew it, two days were up and it was time to make the short journey over the Helderberg Mountains to Cape Town. We most certainly weren’t ready to leave the wine country, but the mother city was waiting in all her glory.

By the time our ten days were up we had hunted in some of the most breath-taking areas the East Cape has to offer, the girls had seen the Big 5 and travelled down the picturesque Garden Route, before we all wrapped up a memorable safari in the Cape of Good Hope. It was one of our many highlights from 2017, shared with friends old and new in beautiful sunny South Africa.

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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