Postcards from South Africa (Part Two)

We arrived at Serengeti Safari Lodge in Limpopo Province, South Africa (23*29.098S x 027*16.381E). The camp is about 80km west of Lephalale, right on the Botswana border (Limpopo river). Last game count showed nearly 2000 head of game in about a 7,000 hectare area of very thick bushveldt. There, the story begins . . .

Things got off to a bit of depressing start: South Africa Airways LOST our guns. Let me tell you, this stinks on ice. SAA calls it a "baggage irregularity report." I happen to think it is more of a gut-wrenching nightmare. It is-- you really don't want this bloody mess. If SAA cared at all, it was not visible to me. Fortunately, it is rare that this happens. We were "the first" with a screw-up of this magnitude. Sometimes it is good to be "first." This was absolutely not one of those times.

My 78 years young Dad borrowed a 7-64 Brenneke-- and did just great with it. Dad bagged a nice gemsbok, a recordbook impala, and a recordbook steenbok. That is a wonderful set of hunting stories right there. Naturally, though, I traveled to SA to muzzleload.

Trying to find your guns attempting to work with SAA people that absolutely have no clue, and just don't care is just no fun. They found a new level of ignorance and apathy. It took a while to get a hold of my Savage 10ML-II, and required 12 hours of driving (three of us had to go) back to the airport right in the middle of the hunt. Finally, we got back to camp around 3 AM, up at 6 AM to hunt all day-- or, something like that.

After whacking the warthog with the Savage 10ML-II @179 yards, it was time to go after horns with the 10ML-II the next day. Time was not in our favor. Snap-shooting out to 200 yards is not a problem for me, but the concept of range is not one generally considered in the bush. Nor should it be-- with a 7 x 57 or similar centerfire, flipping the switch as far as you can see an animal in the bushveldt really is of little concern.

I bled enough to please most people, and my face was ready to peel off from the wind and sun. When the guides ask "if you have seen your face lately," you know you have a good one going. We hunted like hell on fire those last two days, and the right shot didn't present itself easily. Zebras and guinea fowl helped bust up many, many good stalks, as did the wind.

Think a kudu can hide? They are absolute masters of disguise. Check out this pic I snapped early on. You are very, very lucky to see this much of a kudu in the bush. In fact, we never saw a broadside standing kudu ever again.

Okay, we hit the last day of the safari, out with two fabulous PH's and their best tracker, Lucas. Only a few hours remained till sunset.

Suddenly, Lucas gets agitated-- he part whispered and part screamed "KUDU BULL KUDU BULL KUDU BULL." We ran to the edge of the bush, looked down the path-- and there he was. It was a raking shot, the body angled toward the bush-- his head facing us. No time to think about it-- my PH said "decent one." The sticks went up wobbling a bit in the wind, I popped crosshairs center of the body and let her go.

WHAM! You could hear the hit, see the animal's reaction, and it was high-fives all round. That was soon to change, the momentary victory celebration was horrifically premature. Far more "premature" than we could have possibly imagined.

We went back to get the truck, and drove to where the Kudu hit the thick stuff. The PH thought 150 yards or so, I thought 190 yards or so. Not really. Actually, not at all.

100 yards clicked by. 125 yards. Then, 150 yards. 175 yards. 200 yards. Then, 225 yards clicked by. We weren't even close yet. Good grief.

The bull had been standing at about 260 yards. Look at part of a lone kudu bull in the bush, how far is he? You have a second to make up your mind or it is gone-- it was looking right at us. I had no problem making up my mind-- the misjudging of range was of course all my fault, and my responsibility as well.

Though my mind was quickly made up, it was made up quite incorrectly. I did not hold over or compensate for range. Not good. There was no dead Kudu laying there. Karel found a fleck of bloody bone, and tracks with a splayed open hoof. What appeared to be a grand finale now looked to be a potential disaster.

Off we went tearing through the bush, tracking that bull for some two miles. In all that area, there were only four spots with a drop of blood. It gets worse-- now, we are fresh out of sunlight. A smoldering disaster, with the jackals soon to begin their nightly crooning.

The plane is leaving the next day; we were looking at around $1600 to change tickets for my Dad and myself. We had to be packed, on the road, by 10:30 or 11 AM at the very latest. This is ungood. Fabulously ungood. Tremendously ungood. We marked the trail closest to nearest dirt path so we could start the next morning. The thorns destroyed Pierre's lucky handkerchief over the night.

Ever have a horrible, sinking feeling that you might not recover a trophy? Well, I was sick to my stomach-- and had all night to worry about it. This is the genuine "Kodak Moment Projectile Vomiting" feeling. We had a few hours the next day to not just locate the animal, but to drop him / recover him / get him out of the field / skin him and hit the road. It looked bleak. I had guessed I was shooting at 190 yards. No one believed he was any farther in. Well, I could not possibly have been more wrong.

We left the trail with the tracks moving to hard earth: the hoof prints getting faint. Now, we had all night to worry about a wandering herd of impala destroying what was left of that fragile trail. Really bad. I was an emotional wreck-- this really bothered me. You can't be a hunter and not have a gnawing, growing pain in the pit of your stomach in this situation-- all night long.

Okay, we hit the trail the next morning as soon as light allowed it. Fortunately, the shot that looked so good then looked so bad started looking better. The kudu went only a few hundred yards from where we left the trail, and there was blood. LOTS of blood where he bedded down. From then on, there was fresh, wet blood every few yards. The leg was dragging-- now it was apparent this was no minor flesh wound.

Within an hour and a half, we found him-- actually, a bigger (quite healthy) bull almost got shot in the process as well. Thanks to some expert PH's and trackers, the trophy was recovered within an hour and a half. Amazing. It is tremendous testimony to the skill and experience of Karel, Pierre, and their crew.

Had the shot been four inches higher, it would have gone straight through his heart. The hold was a good one, smashing the bottom of his shoulder and opening a huge area. Horizontally perfect but, too low . . . it didn't enter the body cavity. When you have a muzzleloader like the Savage 10ML-II that can hit tennis balls at 200 yards all afternoon, it all boils down to the nut behind the butt. Had I realized he was past 225, it would have been just hold on the spine above the shoulder and lights out-- and a much shorter story to tell. Like most of us, my shooting in hindsight is invariably perfection.

Quite an adventure, with (eventually) a happy ending. I don't care to have one like that ever again, though.

There's not much of a moral to the story, except I can tell you it is not a terrifically good idea when muzzleloading for Greater Kudu to hold for one at 190 yards-- when the magnificent beast is actually at out at 260, or slighty beyond.

I'm exhausted just reliving it. Something like this can really suck the life out of you. Fortunately, the kudu did get the life sucked out of him:

The ending was a mix of joy and relief-- more relief than anything else. It is one of those things you never, ever want to go through again. Yet, at the same time-- you are thankful for the experience, and it makes the more demure hunts pitifully pale by comparison. I'm more thankful right now to have had the expertise of Pierre and Karel by my side, more than anything else, when it was all set into motion.

From the left:

Karel, Pierre, and myself. In front, a kudu experience I'll never forget. He's a fairly young (3-4 years old) bull with very impressive body size. It is far from the biggest kudu ever shot-- but I can tell you this: it is the biggest kudu I've ever shot at, and to me-- he is the biggest, brightest, most magnificent kudu that has ever lived. There is nothing I'd trade for this adventure. The smiles on our faces say what words simply cannot.

As mentioned before-- we hunted with Karel Haefele ( , Professional Hunter Pierre, and the Ke Monati Safaris Team. If you had seen and experienced what we just did, you would not not hesitate calling myself or getting in touch with Karel. Elk and trophy whitetail hunts can, and do cost more than some quality time in the bush with Karel and Pierre. It is a true bargain, with sights, sounds, and memories you'll never forget for the rest of your days. Karel and Pierre are two of the very best I've ever hunted with-- not all that surprising, considering they are native South Africans with close to thirty years of "Professional Hunter" experience between them. My very highest recommendation to Ke Monati Safaris, without reservation. I had a great time and so will you.

After a few calls from South Africa, I have agreed to handle booking arangements for Karel, for this hunt and many others. I'm quite delighted to do so Karel and his KeMonati team are the very best. Please call me anytime, at 815-254-2135, or e-mail me at . And-- get set for the time of your life!

Contact: Randy Wakeman, 12362 S. Oxford Lane, Plainfield, IL 60585

By phone: (815) 254-2135


Copyright 2006 by Randy Wakeman. All Rights Reserved.

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