By Travis Roundy
Worldwide Adventures, January 2015
When I was a kid my dad used to read hunting books to my little brothers and me some evenings during the winter when it was cold and dark outside. I would sit beside him on the couch and imagine myself being there with the hunters pursuing the animals they hunted. I loved to listen to him read Jack O’Connor and Karamojo Bell. The details were so real and vivid in my mind that some days I felt like I had lived and breathed the same experiences that they had written on the pages of those hunting books. I someday wanted to grow up and hunt sheep in Alaska or the Yukon and elephants, lions, leopards, and Cape buffalo in Africa. Life almost never goes like you expect, but somehow I have found my way to many of the places and hunts that I dreamed about as a young boy. The snowy peaks of Alaska have been the backdrop of several hunts for sheep, moose, and bears, and in the dusty trails of South Africa, following lion tracks through the bush and feeling the adrenaline-filled rush of a buffalo charge amidst the roar of gunfire have all become a reality. Life is good, and the world is vast with almost unlimited opportunity to hunt big game.
Last year I took the opportunity to hunt South Africa with my good friend and business partner, John Makoff. We flew to Johannesburg where we were picked up by our PH, Styger Jouber. After a long ride across the country to the hunting concession, we arrived at a stylish and very African hunting lodge with huts donning grass-thatched roofs and very comfortable accommodations. It was much like I had imagined, yet nothing seemed quite the same as the images my boyhood mind had conjured up.
The sunsets were stunning with the South African sun burning through the air silhouetted by the trees, accented by the birds and animals calling out with their unique sounds. Sleep came easy, and I no longer had to dream about hunting Africa, I was living it. The mornings were brisk with temps in the low 40’s and the air still and calm as we climbed in the Landcruiser with the PH and the trackers to head through the darkness to pursue our quarry. Crossing the open plains and hills of the expansive farmland in search of plains game was first on our list. We were after a mixed bag of game and had about 14 days to accomplish as much as possible. John and I wanted to hunt together so that we could experience all of the hunts, and our PH was very willing to accommodate us. A Blesbuck was the first animal to fall to a bullet and my first plains game, followed by a big Impala the next day. I was thoroughly enjoying myself and taking in all the sights and sounds of the hunt. The days passed, and we continued to hunt and take Kudu bulls, Gemsbok, springbucks, zebras, red Hartebeest, black Wildebeest, and Sable antelope and experience one of the greatest hunts I had ever imagined. At nights we would return to the lodge and sit down to a home-cooked meal filled with native vegetables and a different type of wild game meat from game we had harvested. Evenings were spent around a fire telling hunting stories and reliving the events from the day’s hunt.
One of the favorite hunts for me was for the black Wildebeest. We had spotted a herd of around 30 Wildebeests far off in the distance, and Styger devised a plan to get us within a few hundred yards of them to look over the herd and pick out a good big bull for me. We parked the Landcruiser, climbed off the rack, and started to sneak through the bush to the edge of a grass flat where we could see the bulls. Once we crawled to where we could see they immediately spotted us and took off running the opposite direction. We hustled back to the Landcruiser and made our way in the direction they had run, hoping to find them before they made it to the thick trees.
About 1 mile down the road we spotted movement at the top of a ridge ahead and noticed three Wildebeests running toward us with a very good bull in the back of the pack. I readied for the chance at a shot, and when the bulls cleared the trees I sent a round at the bigger bull. Styger announced that I had hit the bull but possibly too far back. We went to the area where the Wildebeest had been at the impact and found a little speck of blood confirming a hit. Just then Styger saw bulls running across another ridge about 1/2 mile in the distance, so we ran back to the Landcruiser and tried to get ahead of them so we could see if the third bull was still with them. As we caught up to them we noticed that my bull was not with the pack anymore, so we decided to backtrack them and find where he had peeled off and left them. After a couple of hours searching to no avail, we decided to go back to the truck and drive back to the original area and start over with the tracking job.
On the way back we drove around a corner of the road and there was my Wildebeest laying dead under a tree within 10 yards of the road. He had run about 200 yards from the point of impact and piled up almost at the edge of the road. We had driven past him trying to catch up to the other bulls without even noticing him. It was relieving to find him and kind of humorous to search so hard only to find that he was in plain sight near the road!
The days went by fast, and I was thrilled to be hunting in Africa. I’m a people person, and I like to observe and interact with people from different cultures around the world. My favorite thing to do after a successful hunt was help the skinners skin the animals that we had taken during the day’s hunt. I have been a taxidermist for almost 20 years and have been around a lot of skinning operations and have seen it done by many different people, but I’ve never seen a group of guys work so hard and so carefully on these animals. They would get the instructions from me to find out if I wanted a lifesize mount or a shoulder mount and then they would go to work. I noticed that they were using some very dull knives, so I took one of them and sharpened it up and handed it back. It was fun to watch as he went back to work and really started skinning like crazy. One by one the other skinners brought their knives to me, holding them out and motioning for me to sharpen them. Over the 10 days or so that we hunted we formed a bond and a respect for each other that was one of the neat parts of the hunt for me. Those boys earned their living and were good at what they did, and they earned my respect.
As the days wore on and we realized the hunt was about to come to an end, we got a chance to hunt a big Kudu bull that Styger said had been hunted by several different hunters over the past year. He knew the area that it holed up in and took us there to start the morning, hoping to catch it up feeding. It felt almost like a Mule deer hunt to me. The bushes were tall enough that we could barely see the horns poking up over them, and the clearings were small enough that it was tough to see a bull as it crossed them. We glimpsed a big heavy-horned bull with big spirals that disappeared into the heavy brush, and we knew instantly that this was the bull Styger had told us lived here. We glassed and glassed until we were sure the bull had bedded for the day as the sun was up and it was getting hot. We decided that a drive would be the only way to get the bull up and get a shot at him. John and I set up on a rise where we could see the best opening in the bushes, and Styger sent one of the trackers in after the bull. In about 5 minutes we could see horns above the bushes, and they were coming fast! The bull had several other bulls with him, and they were all in a line and running full bore to escape. Just as they were about to hit the opening Styger shouted that it was the third bull and to shoot it. I put the hammer down but did not connect. We watched as the bulls ran off into the distance and disappeared over the last ridge over 1 mile away. I was impressed at the nerves the bull had to hold tight to his bed until the tracker almost stepped on him and then to see him exit the place like he knew every inch of it. Kudu are very smart and very good looking animals. I later found a good bull and was able to take him, but he was nowhere near the size of the bull that got away from us!
I’m a Mule deer junkie through and through, but I’ve got to tell you that if you enjoy hunting, you will love hunting Africa! It’s a hunt that is very enjoyable, and there are no draws to apply for, no bonus points to accumulate, and no waiting periods to keep you away. It’s a very reasonably priced hunt where you can find something that will fit your budget no matter what kind of income you live on. It surprised me to find out that a simple plains game package was less than $5,000 with four to five animals included in it. I added a few more animals once I got there, but they ranged from a few hundred bucks on up. I’m saving up my money to go back in a few years to do it again, only this time I’m going to take more friends! It’s a blast and every bit as good as I imagined it to be.