Come with Jens on a kudu hunt to a wild corner of Africa where black rhinos roam among incredible kudus, bushbucks and waterbucks...
I always go hunting with great expectations. To travel without the slightest idea of what adventures are lying ahead is a thrill very similar to the bubbling sensation I used to feel in my stomach the night before my first dozen of birthdays. The certainty that the next day would be great combined with the uncertainty of what would actually happen was excitement in its purest form. The birthdays became predictable and the tickling butterflies on the inside left for good but the childish magic in the joy of expectation remained when it comes to hunting adventures.
In this case, I truly had something to look forward to. The hunting area used by Limpopo Safaris is a huge privately owned nature reserve covering an area of 65,000 hectares. I have been there before. Twice actually and I have come to regard the outfitter Mias Cronje and his lovely wife Bella as good personal friends.
Upon my arrival we test fired the rifle late in the evening in the lights from the car. It was dead on as always. Mias wanted to go kudu hunting early next morning!
We started our first hunting day with a long walk along the Nzehelele River a tributary to the mighty Limpopo River that forms the areas boundary to Zimbabwe. The landscape was wild and impressive. So was the game populations. Along the deep and rocky riverbed, we saw plenty of waterbuck, bushbuck, kudu, nyala and bush pig. Big crocodiles patrolled the shallow water and a grumpy old black rhino bull demanded our constant attention.
The trophy quality in the area is the result of efficient management. Just 15 years ago this enormous hunting area was a number of worn down cattle farms with very little wild life living in the bush. An investor with a keen interest in nature conservation bought the farms and cleaned up the bush. The area was game fenced and one by one all the indigenous species were acquired and reintroduced into areas where they had been absent for more than a century. Today wild bush has reclaimed the cattle pastures and the area is home to more than 30 huntable species of big game.
All the game populations sustains themselves and there is more than enough room for “difficult” species. Thus the area have strong and growing populations of leopard, spotted and brown hyena, African wild dog, crocodile and all the small wild felines that belong in this part of the world. Only the lion is still missing – due to legislative issues – but it is on its way. To the owners it is all about creating a closed African eco-system – a sanctuary for the wild Africa. Hunting is simply a management tool and a way to finance the whole thing. Quotas are very strict.
On our way back from the morning stalk Mias and Hassan were very cautious. They had no idea of the exact whereabouts of our friend Mr. Rhino and they paused often to spot him before he spotted us. This part of the area is not usually used for hunting guests. I only managed to convince Mias to take me there because I insisted that I was an excellent tree climber and because he did not realize that I am a very poor judge of my own abilities (or lack of same)…
They spotted our heavy buddy on the opposite bank. He was browsing peacefully on dry bushes. We stopped to take photos of the big fellow. He was slowly moving towards us and soon he was within 50 meters. We quietly observed and had already chosen our personal trees should the situation suddenly escalate.
When we felt the breeze against the back of our heads, it was already too late. The hardly noticeable wind had turned to carry our scent directly to the black rhino bull at the bottom of the river. He blinked his beady little eyes raised his head and sniffed the wind. In the next second he exploded in furious rage.
The angry bull snorted as he accelerated from zero to top speed in a couple of leaps. He was headed straight for us. I jumped up and ran the few meters to my tree while Mias calmly distracted the mastodon. I got far in to the tree in no time flat. Actually, I am convinced that I would have been able to climb to the top of a polished flag pole covered in green soap! After a few minutes display of brutal force the bull went back to his own side of the river and we sneaked off to the car.
They say that fear is not real. That is a feeling we choose. I do not know if that is true. I do know that I chose to throw out my underpants when we got back that evening and I did not forget to kiss my Härkila Rhino boots goodnight in appreciation of their tree climbing qualities…
We were out early the next morning searching for the strong kudu bulls that are so typical for this area. We had been driving for less than an hour when Hassan spotted two kudu bulls through thick Mopani bush. He could not however get a clear view of their horns. Never the less he had a hunch that they were strong bulls and he convinced Mias to take a closer look.
The bulls were several hundred meters from the car headed towards a steep formation of rocks far from the dirt track we were driving on. 500 meters further ahead Mias turned the Land Cruiser toward the ridge hoping that we would get a chance to see these bulls from the top of the red rocks.
The track went all the way to the top. Mias stopped the diesel engine long before we reached the edge and we silently left the car. We were on a flat plateau high above the plain that stretched from the foot of the cliffs towards the river and its dense green vegetation that made it look like a gigantic green snake moving through the landscape.
Directly below us a pair of young waterbuck bulls got on their feet. They clearly sensed our presence without really realizing the nature of the threat. I took a good look at these magnificent animals through my binoculars as they slowly descended down the side of the cliff sending loose rocks rolling with every step they took.
From the corner of my eye I saw Mias drop to his knees. Instinctively I followed him without knowing why he did it. Mias threw his binoculars before his eyes and starred intensely downhill in a completely different direction than the vanishing waterbucks.
His whispered exited. “Do you see that kudu bull?”
I followed the direction he was looking and there – only about 100 meters down – a giant kudu bull grew out of the shadows beneath a tree that it was feeding on. I quickly got my own set of binoculars in action and a crystal clear image of the magnificent animal appeared before my eyes. My heart skipped a beat or two. This was indeed a sight for sore eyes! The long horns of this bull was curling in deep black turns towards the sky in perfect V-formation. The amber colored tips seemed to be extremely far away from the bases of the horns that were as thick as a grown man’s arms.
“I want you to shoot that bull.... NOW!” Mias was very insisting – and I was not hard to persuade…
I crawled back to the car to get the Mauser. As silent as I could I sneaked a round into the chamber and made sure the rifle was not cocked. As fast as I could I crept back to Mias and Hassan who was still starring at the kudu bull below. I moved the last bit like a snake on the rocks and got in position between the others. I was lined up for a pretty easy shot from prone position with – literally – rock steady support.
I turned the Zeiss scope to 10X magnification and lit the fine red center dot for better contrast against the dark silhouette of the bull. My thumb worked the cocking lever without effort and my finger softly found the trigger as I oozed down behind the scope.
He was right at the edge of my sight picture facing us at an angle. I let the glowing red point slide to the center of his chest and let the shot off.
The bull jumped and kicked violently with his hind legs. His left front leg dangled from his body and dark red blood was pumping from the exit wound behind his shoulder. He turned on three legs and ran downhill headed for the thick bush below. The signs were clear – everything looked just fine. But the bull did not stop and drop as soon as we expected him to do so.
He just carried on and was soon at 200 meters distance. I fired a shot through the top of the trees against the dark silhouette. The bullet deflected and went high over the back of the animal. He was now trotting. Another shot – this time at well over 250 meters – failed to penetrate the Mopani bush. But the kudu was slowing down clearly affected by the first shot.
In front of the animal, I saw an opening between two trees. With a single push on the button on my rangefinder Mias measured the distance to 312 meters. I set the ASV+ turret on the scope at 310 meters and could easily send the last bullet in the magazine into the spine of the bull stopping him on the spot.
Strange! Both Mias and I felt sure that the first bullet was perfect and even though the bull was clearly dying it should not have been able to run that far.
Ten minutes later we caught up with the dead bull between the Mopani trees. The huge trophy was by no means less impressive at short distance. This strong old gentleman had seen his share of fighting and he had probably won most of those battles to claim his place in the gene pool
At closer inspection the reason for the longevity of the wounded bull became clear. My first shot had only destroyed one of the bull’s lungs. It was dying when my last bullet struck it to the ground but it would have died within a few meters had I placed my first bullet through the top of the heart.
With a valuable lesson learned and an incredibly beautiful trophy in the salt, we spent the rest of my visit to this spectacular area taking pictures of the abundant wildlife, fishing brim among the crocodiles and – with big grins on our faces – reassuring each other that we tend to give ourselves waaay to little credit…
I saw lots of kudu, bushbuck and nyala with unbelievable trophies and I’ll be very surprised if this area will not dominate the top of the trophy lists for waterbuck within the next decade. I’ve seen several candidates for the top ten with my own eyes. I’ll be back!
ZEISS: On this trip I am bringing a set of Zeiss Victory HT 8X42 binoculars and a Victory 8X26 PRF rangefinder to complement the rifle scope - a Zeiss Victory HT 2.5-10X50 equipped with the ASV+ ballistic turret. Nothing but the best!
MAUSER: The rifle is a Mauser M03 African PH in .300 Winchester magnum caliber. It turned out to shoot extraordinarily accurate with Norma Oryx 180 gr. ammo. I feel very safe using this particular model as it incorporates a very user friendly hand-cocking devise instead of a conventional safety.
HÄRKILA: I use the strong Oryx pants that fits like a good pair of jeans. A classig safari shirt keeps my skin cool and out of the sun. Both pants and shirt are made from cotton. My feet are comfortably protected by a pair of light Rhino leather boots. A very good choice for hunting in hot weather.