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by Bill Aurand a.k.a. billa Last updated: 2015-02-22 14:14:20
If you have read part one of my story you already know that at the beginning of my South African safari we successfully hunted Greater Kudu and Impala in the mountainous terrain of the Glen Boyd plantation. In part two we travel to James Williamson's main property, the Kubusi Lodge and Reserve that is located in the vicinity of Komga, a good 170km or so drive from Glen Boyd. This area is classic, open field African plains and rolling hills covered with low thick bush.
(June 3, 2014)
After a quick breakfast at Glen Boyd's tent camp dining hall, we packed our gear into Themba's truck and headed off on the 2 ˝ hour drive to the Kubusi Lodge.
Normally, hunters will spend at least 4 days or more at Glen Boyd before moving to the Kubusi Lodge but since my Kudu is already in the skinning shed and there are 6 other hunters in camp at Glen Boyd, Themba thought it best that we get to Kubusi a couple days early so that I could get an opportunity on a good Blesbok ram before the guys with rifles get there. Once we are on the road Themba tells me about a specific area on one of the ranches where he has seen several good Blesbok in the same herd. He says it is open, rolling grassland with scattered rock outcroppings and enough bushes and trees that should allow us to stalk within handgun range.
The “road” into the Kubusi Lodge is quite rugged. In fact, the term road might be a poor choice to describe it. It is rugged and steep and requires 4WD low range to get there. The lodge itself is a series of stone chalets with thatched roofs that are built into the rock outcroppings of the mountainside. Very picturesque. We dropped our gear in our sleeping quarters, grabbed a quick lunch and headed off to the plains for Blesbok.
Blesbok are one of the more common, open country herd animals. They are usually found in groups ranging from 20 or so animals up to 100 or more. They are typically hunted with a flat shooting rifle at longer ranges similar to the Pronghorn Antelope of the Western USA. Both the males and females sport horns and telling the difference between a good 15 inch ram and a 13 inch female is tough when they are all bunched together and moving around. Especially when looking through a low power, long eye relief pistol scope.
The scenery and terrain in this area is classic Africa. It looks like a scene right out of the Lion King. There are herds of Zebra, Impala and Wildebeest. Small groups of Giraffe and many Blesbok. Within 10 minutes of arriving at the hunting area we probably saw 100 or more Blesbok roaming the plains in the distance but all were well beyond my shooting distance with the 358JDJ Contender. Within a very short time it was obvious to me that hunting a Blesbok at long range (300 yards or more) was a very doable thing but that locating and downing THE Blesbok with a handgun shot at less than 200 yards is going to be a big challenge! Again, the challenge is why I am in Africa with a handgun!
What I have going in my favor is that Themba really knows the habits and tendencies of these animals. He really seems to be able to anticipate their next move. He has tremendous patience and is very deliberate and slow with our stalks. On the first stalk we attempted we got to about 250 yards from a good ram but there were quite a few smaller Blesbok right in front of us that kept us from getting closer to the big guy and eventually they fed away from us, well out of shooting range. Glassing over 40 or so animals that are spread out across a large field right in front of you is quite intense as they are constantly moving and grazing. Initially, they all looked alike to me and I could not tell a trophy ram from an old female or an immature ram.
The whispering conversations between Themba and I went something like this:
Themba: “There is a good ram next to that bush.”
Me: “Which bush?”
Themba: “By the big rock to your left”
Me: “Is he the one facing to the left?”
Themba: “No to the right, the right! He is standing behind 2 smaller ones. Now he is turning and facing left. He is walking away from us”.
This style of hunting is far more intense than hunting a solitary animal or a lone male that is surrounded by non-horned females. Throughout the hunt I was very concerned about shooting the wrong animal and missing out on a good trophy. Fortunately for me, Themba is a very patient man.
We pulled many stalks that afternoon without getting an opportunity at a big shooter. We probably covered at least 4 or 5 miles on foot between stalks. We did get close to a couple decent rams that I would have been content with but Themba wanted to give me a chance at one of the big guys so we decided to pass on the shot opportunity. Tomorrow is another day…
(June 4, 2014)
We were on the road early to get back to the same ranch by daybreak. Themba parked the truck and off we went. We climbed a hillside that was covered with small trees and bushes that allowed us some cover so we could move along undetected. Over the next hill we spotted a good sized heard of 50 or so Blesbok. After just a few seconds of glassing Themba said that there are 2 good rams in this herd and we should go after them. After a little coaching from him I spotted the 2 rams through my binoculars. They were bigger and darker across their backs and their horns were noticeably lighter than the jet black horns of the younger animals. The biggest ram had horns that swept back more than the others making him easier to spot. Themba said the horns were a bit unusual but he was the best one and the one he wanted us to try for. He said he had spotted this ram on several other occasions and he was a big one. At this point the rams are a good 600 yards away with nothing but grass and smaller Blesbok between us. The patch of trees we were in ran down to our right and it appeared that the Blesbok herd was slowly moving in that direction so we backtracked a bit and headed down through the trees to see if we could get closer. We set up on the edge of the tree line and wait a bit. Before too long we see a few Blesbok feeding off to our left. Within 30 minutes or so the entire herd is feeding our way. The big ram with the back swept horns is in a tight group with 5 or 6 others that are feeding our way. It is tough to get a clear shot as so many Blesbok are just milling around the big guy, I have the 358 on the sticks and my heart is pounding as we wait. When they get to about 130 yards away the ram separates from the group and I quickly align the crosshairs on his shoulder. As I squeeze the trigger he starts to turn to face me and I feel my hold wobble a tiny bit side to side at the shot although I can clearly see the crosshairs on the Blesbok when the trigger breaks. The ram's legs buckle but he recovers and runs off with the group as the entire herd stampedes away. There are Blesbok running everywhere!
We clearly heard the whack of the bullet hitting the ram. Still, we are unsure what has happened due to the melee of action. We wait for about 10 minutes for things to settle down before we approach the area of my shot. The dry grass is about waist high in most spots so a downed Blesbok will be tough to find. We look for the ram for probably 30 minutes and do not even find a drop of blood. At this point, I am starting to feel pretty bad and I am quite concerned that the ram will be lost. Themba is certain that the shot was too far back on the body and is not immediately fatal but he also believes that we can find the ram again if we can find the herd. He said the herds will rarely run that far as they usually just take a big circle of perhaps a mile or so in their known territory and eventually come back to the same area. Themba suggested we break for lunch and allow the ranch to settle down for a while. I guess I needed the time to settle down too as I was pretty dejected at this stage of the proceedings! Themba assures me that he has followed up many wounded animals and that he and his dogs usually find them.
After a quick lunch we drive to the high hills at the far end of the ranch to see if we can locate the same herd. As you can probably guess, there were herds of Blesbok everywhere! How will we ever find a specific Blesbok amongst so many? We glass the first two herds and Themba quickly confirms that neither group is “our” herd so we move on. We park and walk another half mile over the next hill to a huge ravine where we locate a large herd. After a lengthily and careful study of these animals with his binoculars, Themba is certain that this is our herd but the big ram is not there. I'm thinking “oh no, he’s probably down somewhere and we will never find him! Jackal bait!” Now I am really stressing inside. Instead of going back to the spot where I first shot in an attempt to track the wounded ram, Themba suggests that we continue on over the next hill as there is a water hole there and it is common for animals hit in the abdomen to separate from the herd and to seek water. He is the PH and I am the amateur so I trust him and off we go over the next hill. I was hanging my head a bit and still second guessing the timing of my shot as we crest the hill to the next valley when all of a sudden we spotted a lone Blesbok steadily walking up the far slope. Immediately, Themba said “There he is. Let's go get him.” The ram disappears over the hilltop and we take off running across the valley as fast as we can go. As we crest the hill we spot him again going into a small thicket at the bottom of the valley. We use the same thicket for our cover and close the distance quite a bit. As we approach, we see the big ram walking away from us in an opening at about 100 yards. We set up the sticks for a quick shot and just like that he stops and looks back. He is standing, quartering away as I put my crosshair just behind his shoulder. I am winded from our brisk run so I take a few deep breaths to settle myself and I very deliberately, squeeze the trigger. This time the shot feels perfect. Immediately, he drops in his tracks as the 250 grain Hornady Interlock bullet passes through just behind the first rib and exits high on the front of the far shoulder. Wow, what a relief that my Blesbok is finally down. Upon examination, my first shot entered just behind the diaphragm and passed through the stomach without hitting anything solid. Small hole in, small hole out with no blood. Essentially the ram stepped out of my cross hair as I shot and I didn't adjust for it.
What a beautiful trophy he is. We did not rough score him but the 17.5 inch long, heavy horns will certainly score well in the SCI book and will make a great mount for my trophy room. I owe the success of this hunt to the great knowledge, patience and experience of Themba. His commitment to putting me onto an exceptional ram and his determination and skill at following up the ram after the first shot made it all possible. He is a superb Professional Hunter.
(June 5, 2014)
Today the weather is cold, rainy and very windy. It reminds me of our December deer season back home in Pennsylvania. The objective today was to find a big boar Warthog. Unfortunately, Warthogs do not like the cold and the rain. We hunted a nearby cattle ranch all morning but had no success. We headed back to the camp for lunch. On the way back I decided that I wanted to add a Blue Wildebeest to my trophy list as I still had 2 ˝ days to hunt plus an extra day for sightseeing. Besides, there is also a good chance of encountering a Warthog while on the hunt for a Wildebeest.
After lunch Themba takes me to an area where he had seen a small herd of Wildebeest a few days ago. After several stops to glass the far off plains, we spot a herd of 20 or so Wildebeest on the opposite slope of a big valley. They are about 1 mile away and are intermixed with Zebra, Impala and several Giraffes. Probably 60 or 70 animals in total. That's plenty of eyes and ears to blow our stalk. Even so, it looks like a good opportunity though as the wind is right and much of the ground between us and the animals is thick bush hopefully allowing us to move closer without being seen. We quietly make our way to the bottom of the valley where we follow a small stream bed through the thick cover. After about 30 minutes of sneaking along the stream bed we are within 200 yards or so of the main herd. We stop and glass at the edge of the bush. The animals are spread out across the hillside grazing in the tall grass so we can only see their backs and occasionally their heads when they look up. Themba was busily glassing all of the Blues (as he calls them), looking for the one we would try for. He identifies a mature Blue that is behind a small bush to our right that’s perhaps 250 yards away. “That's the one.” he whispers. There is a small gully to our right that we decide to crawl along to close the distance. We move along very slowly on hands and knees until we are within 100 yards of the spot where we had last seen the Blue. We cautiously stand up and set the shooting sticks. The Blue is still there. I adjust the sticks for a clear shot and settle my gun. My heart is beating so hard that I fear the Blue will hear it. This is exciting! This is the African experience that I had dreamed about for so many years, and with a truly classic game animal right in my sights I just want to freeze this moment in time. I take a few more deep breaths to settle in again as I crank my scope from 2x to 6x for better sight picture. The Blue is facing to the left and slightly away as I lock the crosshairs in on the shoulder and squeeze the trigger. At the shot, the hillside explodes into a cloud of dust and churning hooves as all of the animals, including my Blue, bolt off to our left. We lose track of my animal in the melee and are not sure what has happened. We very slowly move in the direction where we last saw my Blue. It is a bit tense for the next few minutes knowing that if my shot wasn't true a wounded Blue can go a long, long way as part of a fleeing herd. After about 10 minutes of slow, step by step walking, Themba looks to our left and sees the Blue laying in the high grass about 100 yards from the spot of the shot. I am filled with excitement and relief! What a magnificent beast! You just cannot appreciate the beautiful coat these animals have until you get up close. The color fades from a jet black on the mane to a silver/black down the sides and then to a beautiful brown color down on the legs. Not to mention that an animal this size (approx. 400lbs) is truly huge when compared to the Pennsylvania whitetails I usually hunt.
At the beginning of the safari it was my plan to just have a Euro skull mount done if I bagged a Wildebeest but standing here with the animal I decide to blow my taxidermy budget and have the full hide, tanned as a rug for my trophy room in addition to the skull mount.
The 250 grain Hornady Interlock bullet entered just behind the shoulder, passed through both lungs and exited center shoulder on the off side. It penetrated about 24 inches of tough Wildebeest leaving an impressive wound channel. Another textbook kill with the TC 358JDJ!
The first 5˝ days of my safari have been truly incredible. Four nice trophies in the salt plus I still have 2 days of hunting remaining - plus my sightseeing day. Tomorrow we will be in pursuit of a Warthog to hopefully complete my safari... But that's a story for another day.
This is part 2 of my South African safari adventure. Watch for part 3 in the near future.
Important information and links
My personal gear for the safari consisted of the following:
Firearm: TC Contender in SSK 358JDJ - carried on an Uncle Mike's nylon sling, Pachmayer Gripper grips and forend.
Scope: Bushnell Elite 3200, 2x–6x scope on a 3 ring, SSK T’SOB mount.
Ammo: 46.5 grains of H4895 topped with a 250 grain Hornady Interlock spire point bullet, CCI 250 primer. This load chronos at 2000fps. I produce my own, custom fit ammo bands from commercial grade black elastic. I always wear it on my gun hand to make for a quick reload.
Firearm: For a 2nd gun I took my 44 Magnum Redhawk loaded with 300gr Hornady XTPs over 21.5gr H110 – 1250fps muzzle velocity. Removable scope mount with a 4x B & L scope. I carried the Redhawk iron sighted in a Bianchi 111 crossdraw, belt holster for most of the safari but the situations of the stalks and the open country distances were better suited for the precision of the scoped 358JDJ.
Binoculars: Leupold 10x42 BX2 Acadia. For the price these binoculars are amazing. If you are looking for a pair of binoculars in the under $300 price range I believe these are the best you will find without spending a lot more. FYI – practically every one of the PHs carried either Swarovski or Leica.
Shooting glasses: Radians, Eclipse photochromic glasses. I wore these glasses every day to protect my eyes from the wind and the brush. I am a contact lens wearer and the hours of constant wind is tough without a close fitting glasses. The glasses were great for shooting too. They are yellow in the shade and they darken to brown in the sunlight. A great pair of glasses.
Rangefinder: An aging Bushnell Yardage pro 400. It served me well on the 190 yard Kudu shot and does everything I need as I had determined ahead of time that I would not shoot beyond 200 yards on a trophy animal.
The US contact and booking agent for Kubusi Safaris is EAI Outdoors www.eaioutdoors.com Ed Rymut owner
If you contact Ed please use me as a reference. We are considering putting together a group handgun safari in 2016 or 2017.
The South African outfitter is James Williamson at Kubusi Safaris - www.kubusisafaris.co.za
Firearms pre-registration at Johannesburg – www.riflepermits.com
SSK Industries - Custom TC barrels, accessories, gunsmithing – www.sskindustries.com
SSK is also the home of HHI - Handgun Hunters International (join today)
Cost of the safari: EAI offers package deals or daily rate plus trophy fee hunts. I did a package hunt and added my Wildebeest and 2nd Warthog. I spent about $4600 on the hunt itself and 6 animals. $1700 on air travel/trip insurance and $100 for gun permit preregistration. I probably gave out another $500 in tips to my PH, tracker/skinner and the camp staff but that's totally optional.
Taxidermy: Kubusi has their own taxidermist on site at the Glen Boyd plantation and I decided to have them mount my animals and ship to me completed. The price list is on the EAI website but as an example a Kudu shoulder mount is $700 an Impala is $400. The crating and shipping will likely be $1000+ for the shipment but I am having 4 shoulder mounts, a skull and a rug done.
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