The Perfect Hunt

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We as hunters get to experience outdoor adventures that are some of the best in the world. With out a doubt South Africa offers some of the best hunting anywhere in the world. However as hunters we are always seeking perfection. As individuals this will vary in form from person to person, but you will always hear a hunter refer to his BEST hunt or FAVOURITE hunt. This leads me to the question is there such thing as PERFECTION? Is there the one perfect hunt?? I am not sure I believe there is, as I believe each hunts has its perfect moments, but on a recent hunt we came mighty close to the PERFECT HUNT.

picture-312On a recent hunt Phillip Johnson and Adam Bunkel joined me for a hunt in the Estcourt area. Both are regular clients and clients we have shared a long history with. Phillip and I were involved in a serious car accident in 2011. From this a great friendship has arisen and we have hunted on many occasions since. On this trip Phil would be looking for a big Kudu bull and Adam an Eland Bull.

Phil had come down a day early and it was not long and we were on the shooting range sighting in his new Winchester 270. It shot well and we were soon on our way to a very good Kudu concession. Selbourne is a farm on the east side of the Bushmens River and the Southern Boundary of Weenen Game Reserve. It has proved to be a great concession and has produced many Kudu over 55 inches which is superb for this area. We accompanied by our trackers Zipho and Richard were soon on the concession and as per normal on this concession I placed the trackers out on view points were they could observe the area. This was very important on this property so as to cover as much hecterage as possible in as short a time as possible. This is a open farm and the Kudu come and go as they please. So in order to find them it is essential to cover as much ground as possible.

I had been seeing a group of Kudu bulls in the area known as the tower, it consisted of 13 bulls amongst which was a monster. A client earlier in the season had missed this bull and I would be looking for him today. I had told Phil the story of this bull and he was upbeat. So with out delay we dropped Richard off . Richard was in a position that would aid us and should we spot something he could assist us. With Kudu hunting I always believe it very important to keep eyes on the animals wilst stalking them as it helps tremendously to have info on there movements.  They are the grey ghost and can disappear with out a trace if you let them.

We reach our position at the tower and began glassing. Kudu is always a slow process and half the job is finding a shootable bull. An hour passed and no joy.  Kudu cows, Red Hartebeest and Impala. No bulls. We checked in with Richard  and got the same story.

We walked over to another view point and glassed that area, a huge inaccessible valley. No sign.  We spent the best of the morning glassing the tower area and no results. I knew the bulls had to be in the area. The farmer had put cattle into the tower area and often this shifts the Kudu movement slightly. The disturbance of collecting cattle usually pushes the Kudu into a neighboring or quieter region nearby. With this in mind after lunch I decided to check the neighboring area, known as Red Cliffs. This area looked over the Bushmens River and had super view points but was notoriously difficult to hunt as short range visibility was low. Phil and I made our way into the area. Immediately we found fresh sign of the bulls. Broken branches, droppings and tracks littered the ground. We proceeded slowly and check the Red cliffs view point. Nothing. Zipho and I both commented that the bulls had to be around as the sign was fresh. The hunt had relay started now. The intensity was building and the atmosphere was filled with excitement. You simply knew something was brewing. We followed the tracks and broken branches, it was difficult to attain a direction. We were heading back towards the tower area along a very steep valley. The sign was all around. We stopped and were looking at some fresh dung when Zipho spotted a Kudu. The intensity lifted and we all peered through our binoculars. I could make out his form, his neck was thin and he appeared to be immature. I followed him through the thick bush as usually a bull of this 3 to 4 year old age group will be accompanied by other bulls. We followed and glassed and could only locate the one young bull. This was unusually but not impossible. The bull eventually realized he was being followed and barked once and made off into the thick bush.

We still had that feeling things were building like the black clouds before a hailstorm.

We continued on, following the fresh tracks and sign. We then came into an open area and eight Kudu cows were feeding on the hillside. They saw us and made off. I did not like this as they would alert the entire area. We proceeded and came face to face with one of the cows. Luckily she moved off. I checked the wind and it was still perfectly in my favour. We continued toward an area were the valley and thick bush started to bottle neck. There were only two paths that crossed the valley.

Suddenly out the corner of my eye, the horns of a Kudu bull flashed through the bush. They had seen us before we saw them. I saw only one bull. I signaled to Phil and Zipho and took off at a jog to try and get a better look. I saw the bull running through the thicket and noticed another join him. They were both big bulls and def worth shooting if the chance provided. We followed and soon picked up the tracks of the running bulls. They cut deep into the wet soil from the rain during the week. They were fairly easy to see and we followed as fast as we could. They were heading straight for the bottleneck in the valley. The darted and cut through the bush and we followed tracking the animals as best we could. The intensity now at fever pitch. The thing with tracking is the more you follow the better the chance of catching up. We broke through the last thicket and the deep valley lay before us. The Kudu had to have either crossed or run up and around. Either way we should be able to see or hear them. Often with Kudu it is the hearing that is more important than the seeing.

The next thing you heard was a hoof hit a rock surface.

They were directly below us in the deep valley.

“Phil get ready!!” I said wilst setting the shooting sticks.

Phil got his rifle up and I knew the Kudus would have to come into sight as they came up the other slope. You heard more hooves hit the rock surface and next thing two big bulls floated up the steep slope, followed by another eight mature bulls. Man were did they come from, we were following two bulls!

Phils rifle rested in the sticks like a gun turret and the Kudu floated up the slope in and out of sight. I could emediately see the two lead bulls were massive. I would choose which one presented its self best. They moved and eventually I feared they would not stop so took the ultimate risk. I whistled in a loud Reedbuck fashioned wistle. The Kudu frove asif a gun shot had gone off.

The bull on the left was clear. I knew this bull he had amazing length.

“Phil number two!! The one on the left!!”

With out hesitation the 270 cracked and the impact floated back to us. It was a good hit. The bull jumped into the air and soon the crashing in the bush gave his place of death away.

We had just experienced a perfect hunt from preparation to culmination. We made our way over to the bull and he was indeed a monster. I guessed him at 56 inches he had length a plenty but the depth of spiral a little shallow. He was one amazing trophy to top off an unforgettable hunt. Phil was blown away.

Now how is the best way to top off a perfect Kudu hunt??

It is when the Kudu falls in a totally inaccessible area and you have to cut it up and carry it out. Now this Kudu hunt had everything and then some. If perfect is possible this was it.

With the Kudu loaded and on route home, we both relived the adventure. Adam had arrived and was overwhelmed at what we had done that day. Now can I ask you? WHAT IS THE CHANCE OF HAVING TWO HUNTS LIKE THIS??

Adam was blown away on our return to camp at our success. He was jealous and excited for his own hunt. Adam immediately asked about Eland and had I been seeing any good bulls. My answer was however not what he wanted to hear. I had not and Eland bulls in general had been a little scarce. I however tried to be positive and assure him our chance where still good. The farm we would be heading to was in the Ladysmith district and was also a free range property. With Spionkop Nature Reserve and the Drakensberg in close proximity you really never knew what animals you would find on this property. It was a real lucky packet of Eland hunting.  We over the years had however done well on this property and had been successful with good Berg Eland and Kudu. The Eland found in the Drakensberg seem to be slightly smaller than Eland found in the lower lying areas, it is unusual to shoot a bull that measures over 34 inches. Rowland Ward is very difficult to attain in this area with very old bull wearing their horns down significantly. A blue old bull often had horns of 27 to 30 inches blunt and worn down from use.

This was exactly what Adam was looking for a good old Drakensberg bull.

We packed the vehicle bright and early and soon found ourselves on the N3 to ladysmith. It was just daybreak. We arrived on the farm and we soon found ourselves driving up the beaten farm tracks with the sun rising. The light liking the tops of the mountains. Adam, Phil and myself accompanied by trackers Richard and Zipho again.

On this property we would approach it in a similar fashion as to Selborne the previous day. We would use the trackers and ourselves to use look out points, binoculars and radios to scour as much land as possible. This farm was in the region of 4000 hectares and with steep valleys and thick bush it would be a full day job to cover it and find what we were looking for.

On the farmers recommendation we started on the rear side of the farm, this area comprised of three valleys that ran down from a central mountain range. All the valleys ran in a northerly direction. But basically it made three ridges running north onto some Acasia covered flats near blue bank. My plan was to put the trackers on the first and second ridge and we would drive to the third after dropping Zipho and Richard off. This we did and soon where unpacking rifles, ammo and shootings sticks out the truck. Soon we were glassing the valley floor; we would sit on the rocks and glass the base of the valley. Some kudu were sunning themselves on the opposite slope and Mountain Reedbuck bounced off the slope below us. The valley was alive and well. Would we find Eland and if so would there be bulls?

We worked our way down the valley and occasionally checked in with Richard and Zipho. Kudu aplenty but no Eland. The morning was warming up and soon we were overlooking a small dam at the base of the valley. A movement in the thick bush caught my attention.. Had I seen correctly?? Then I saw it again a yellow coloured movement in the thicket. Was it an Eland or a domestic cow??

It moved again, it was an Eland cow. They were heading towards the dam. There was also a salt lick near the dam perhaps they were heading there. We watched the bush come to life there was not one Eland. 1 turned to 2. 2 turned to 4. 4 turned to 8. Soon they were in and out of the shrub thicket and it made it difficult to count them. They were however on their way to the dam. We would have to wait them out and see exactly what the group comprised of. Adam and his Mauser 375 where ready and willing, however we had not seen a bull yet.

Next thing the radio crackled to life, it was Zipho. “Hamish look at the back there is a big animal in the trees!” I searched the tree line. I saw nothing just more cows and calves. Then suddenly like an Elephant came a massive bull. Man this was a bull that we could have only dreamed about. He was massive in the body and hosted a huge pair of horns that flared outwards at the top. Most unusual for this area. To see a bull like this was unheard of in this area. Man excited took over and Adam just wanted to go after him. I was a lot more cautious and realized the magnitude of the hunt before me. We could not mess this one up. This without a doubt would be the biggest Eland I have shot in this area ever.  I did not want to venture a guess as to what he measured from 800m away but I knew for a fact he would make Rowland ward.

Phil’s hunt of yesterday was now an ancient memory. All that mattered to everyone was getting this bull. It would not be easy the wind was coming out the south. Making any entry into the valley from the side we were on impossible. I would have to come from Zipho’s side. I radioed him and discussed our option he agreed that his side was better than mine. I called Richard to and summoned him to come to our position so he too could cover our approach. Phil opted to stay where we were and keep an eye on the animals so when Richard reached him they could observe our approach.

Adam and I got our things together and made our way around the valley to Zipho’s side this was a lengthy walk but with our anticipation and excitement running high he breezed across the uneven terrain and up the opposite slope. We were soon alongside Zipho and once again peering into the valley. The animals were still in the thick brush but now definitely heading to the dam.

My idea at this stage was to try and get down the slope through the thick bush and down into the valley bottom. There was an open clearing behind the dam and on the way to the salt lick maybe we could ambush this bull in this area. If we could get there before him. Adam and I now cut down to the basics the bush on the slope was very dense and laced with Lantana a retched noxious weed that makes life very difficult. It is covered in thorns and would make getting down the slope quietly and quickly extremely difficult.

We set off and began fighting our way through the thick Acasia and Lantana thickets. We went as quietly as possible. I kept checking with Zipho that the animals were relaxed. They were. We continued and suddenly seemed to be making good progress. Zipho informed me that the first animals had reached the dam and where drinking. I said to Adam “we need to pick up the pace!” This we did we eventually reached the stream bed at the base of the valley. I cecked again with Zipho. All clear. We continued along the stream bed. Now it was about setting up a shot. We needed to find the exact right staging area. Some where we could see the entire open clearing and have enough cover to avoid detection as the bull was at the back and there was no doubt we would have to remain undetected by up to 30 cows in order to get a shot at the bull. I would go along the stream bed then stick my head up like a suricate and look for the right spot. I mut have done this five times before selecting a spot. There was a small donga coming into the stream bed this would hide us just enough and still if necessary we could fire a shot. We set up in anticipation and descused the shooting distance. It was not more than 180 m at the furthest. The dam maybe 250 m.

We set up and soon enough we could make out the first sand coloured body heading towards the salt lick from the dam. A mature cow headed our way. There was no doubt now we were in with a great chance…

Slowly but sure the cows filtered out and onto the open area where they grazed. Man where was the bull? A lot of the cows were spreading out and grazing some not 80 meters from me man I hoped they did not bump into us. They were close now.

Then the radio came to life it was Richard “The big bull is at the dam!! Be ready!!”

We were ready and we had evaded the eyes of 30 cows and calves.

Then the dark grey hide of the bull started to appear his flaired horns clearly visable. Man he was massive bull, looking more like a livingstons bull than a cape. He walked slowly and I urged Adam to get ready and not make any big movements. He was about 140 meters away. Perfect!!!

“Adam when he is clear take him!!”

Adam settled in his breathing uncontrollable.

The bull paused and the Mauser bellowed!!!!!

The Eland stood motionless!! No report of a hit. No dust, No reaction.

“SHIT YOU MISSED ADAM SHOOT AGAIN!!!’

Adam reloaded and aimed again. Again the Mauser bellowed. This time the hit was definite. The big bull took a few strides and then succumbed to gravity. We both erupted in total and utter exhilaration. We had done it we had got into a perfect position and made a shot that counted.

We got up and made our way over to the Eland. Man he was every bit as impressive as we had thought. We was dark in color and had a huge dewlap. Both of Adams shots had hit there mark. Great shooting under immense pressure.  Adam sat with him quietly and I gave him some space to enjoy his animal.

What can one say? Every now and then as hunters we are truly blessed with some amazing experiences and in this case two perfect hunts topped buy two amazing animals. A 56 inch Kudu bull and a 37 inch Eland bull. Amazing trophies for this free ranging area. Perfect hunts don’t come often but when they do make the absolute most of each and every moment as moments like these are truly rare.

Phil and the trackers joined us and all where in total awe of this amazing bull and an amazing hunt.

Perfection is attainable. With a lot of hard work, good people and plenty of luck.