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Back in the bright lights, guns away, fishing rods out and the casino down the street.
It has been a frenzy. I was really hoping to keep my blog up to date, but when were introduced to the country over a week ago, a lady mentioned that it is actually a third-world country and that I shouldn't expect the same luxuries I have at home. I expected the food and rooms to be different, and that the topography and critters would be like nothing I had encountered, but there were many things I had taken for granted that weren't going to be realities.
I need to back up before I go forward. Our internet access while in Hoedspruit was sketchy, as my kid likes to call it. Sparky and I only had access from an internet cafe' in town, and we only got there three times and I spent one of those times fighting with pictures, so didn't get much said. SOOOOOO.... I will just hop back in time and flesh out the details. The rest of this post is about my sable opportunity and hunt, so may not be interesting to some - nothing gory, but just a description of how it all came about and was completed.
Last Thursday was huge. Sparky got a fantastic kudu, which I recorded on video and through 102 pictures. It provided more entertainment as it was the source of an incident which involved a shouting match, the firing of our tracker/skinner, and the eventual consumption of a significant amount of beer, brandy and rum. I managed to shoot video of both the shooting and the scoring of the kudu - the scoring being quite entertaining as Sparky found out he shot a dual-record book critter.
The skinner incident was all because James, the eventually former skinner, didn't want to lift Sparky's kudu over the gate as opposed to dragging it. It needed to be lifted because hair could be pulled out which is not a good thing. The argument provided some interesting entertainment, even though Sparky and I don't understand Afrikaans, except for a particular statement which involves some very nasty international language. Once that was done, we had lunch, Daniel and Tammy went to town for beer and supplies, and Joost, Sparky and I changed into our relax clothes and began toasting the kudu's demise.
We were discussion our plans for the evening and next day when our camp partners returned. That is when the bombshell about the sable was dropped.
To back up a bit, my post was a bit misleading when I first mentioned the sable. After Daniel spoke to his dad the night we arrived, he offered my the sable right then. Sparky and Joost weren't there yet, so it all sat with me. I had never considered the fact that I would ever have a chance at a sable. They are reknown for their difficulty to hunt, their ferociousness - yes, a nasty antelope - and their regal position in the big game world. I knew if I was going to take up this amazing opportunity, I would need to rethink my trophy list and my taxidermy plans if I was to afford it. Sparky arrived and we teased him about the exciting things that had been determined. The first exciting thing was the fact that the lions in the next concession had killed a giraffe - not good for the giraffe - but we would be going to look for them with a spotlight that night. I broke the news about the sable and there was a great deal of excitement exhibited by Sparky and myself. It was then I decided that I would take the sable.
We were well into deciding that Friday would be sable day when Daniel and Tammy showed up and he informed us that due to military training in the area, the sable would need to be taken right away. I was about to engage with the consumption of a quite healthy dose of brandy when he told me about this. It was a case of hurry up and get changed and get ready for an experience.
We loaded into the "bucky", or 4x4, and headed off. It was quite a sight - a Toyota Land Cruiser loaded with Daniel and I in the hunter seats, Sparky in the rear seat - dazzling, I might add, in his floral shorts and t-shirt - and Joost at the wheel. Now, the roads in these safari areas are terrible. Not bad, bumpy dirt road terrible, but water eroded, rock studded, tree-encroached trails. Joost (prounounce as boost without the b) was tearing down the road between the military base and Kruger National Park at breakneck speed. Daniel seems to have keys for everything, so it wasn't surprising to find out he had a key to the military gates to get onto the grounds.
Daniel's dad had told us that the sable lived on the border of the base next to Kruger and rarely strayed far from it. We had about 20 minutes left of daylight when we started looking for the sable.
As we drove down the road, I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. I had made a lucky shot on my gemsbok, had a bit of an issue with my zebra, but was able to put two shots inside a one inch bull that morning, but my confidence was a bit shaken none the less.
We were putting along, looking into the dense bush as best we could. All of a sudden we saw him. The bull was not far off the road in a small opening. Joost backed up to a spot where I could see him from the shooting chair. Now, it was difficult to understand why hunting from the vehicles was required, but having seen that any attempt to walk up to an animal results in their instant melting into the veldt, we understood the necessity. It was not easy to get a solid rest on the padded shooting rest, and it didn't help when Daniel was telling me that I would have to shoot just through the top of the grass, and Sparky was rambling on about not being able to figure how to turn my video camera on and my heart was pounding like the bilge pump on a sinking oyster boat.....
In the end, I took my shot and the sable made it about 30 feet before it fell over, suffering from a sever case of death.
It is always sad to actually shoot something, becasue then the hunt is over and work begins, but there was some closure and relief to finally examine the condition of the old bull. He was skinny, battle-scarred, and in poor shape. He had a bone sticking out from his spine or pelvis, he had scars on his face, and was clearly not long for this world. I know shooting him took only a matter of days or weeks away from his life span, but I think it was a good thing. I am sure if he had a few more seconds to actually grasp the situation he was in, he would have made an attempt to melt into the veldt, I would have had to attempt to sneak up on him on foot with only 15 minutes left in my chance to shoot a sable, and as sneaky as I am, he would have escaped to become leopard poo.
We took a pile of pictures and Daniel's dad arrived to help us carry him to the bucky. Yes, carry a 700 pound antelope through the nastiest thorns, burrs and tangled mess of ground cover. The only handles he had were on his head, so a tow strap was threaded back and forth under him and we eventually made it.
Daniel and his dad were amazed to discover that he was much larger than they had thought. They figured he would have been 36 or 37 when they saw him live on the hoof, but as they put a tape on him, he was 1/8 of an inch under 40 inches. This bull was very nearly a Rowland Ward trophy book qualifier, and I hoped their tape was a smidge off to the wrong, so there would be hope when they measured him at the taxidermist. Regardless of his score, this was a trophy of a life time and something I would never forget.
Posted by morganhart
Archived in South Africa
An interesting day, to say the least.
So, Thursday was in the books. On to Friday.
Friday was not your average hunting day, as far as safaris usually go. We had decided that it would be a tour day. We loaded up and headed to town for a quick blast at the internet place, some gas, and then off to see one of the world's largest baobab tree. It was a huge tree that had falled down, and as Daniel put it "is busy dying". There were dates carved into the bark of the tree going back to the 1800's and it was pretty cool. Of course, the battery on my camera indicated that it was going away in short order. Grrrrr.....
We went from there to the Maholoholo wildlife rehab farm to see the great things they do. We found out that we missed the last tour and the next one was at 3. At that point, we decided to go to the big dam/reservoir in the foot of the Drakensburg mountain range. The name of the place escapes me, but it was very cool. We stopped at a resort for lunch on the way back to the Maholoholo Center for the 3 o'clock show.
The valley we were in to and from the Center was a big change from the part of the veldt we had been in. Each side of the road was full of fruit and vegetable farms - oranges, lemons, tomatoes, potatoes - everything growing with the aid of the irrigation provided by the giant dam we had just visited. Every few hundred meters were roadside stands - little more than tables or a blanket on the ground - staffed by black workers. Workers on the farms were given fruit at the end of their day and many of them would try to sell it to supplement their income.
Upon arrival at the Rehabilitation Center, we passed through the armed gate and through a typical game farm area. Typical, except for the "Buzzard Buffet" which was a space holding animal remains which was keeping a handfull of vultures and maribou storks busy. In the parking lot was a warthog, streched out and snoring, an posing unknowingly for pictures. He was calm until an unnamed PH gave him a poke and he jumped up and started walking away, only to have the same PH grab him by the tail - or possibly poking his knackers - causing him to squeal and run off a few meters.
The Center was started in the 1960's as a place to rehab injured leopards, but has gone on to rehabilitate and foster injured animals and birds. Our tour introduced us to cheetahs, lions, leopards, a baby white rhino, all manners of eagles, vultures and birds of prey - all set in a beautiful grounds with free roaming antelope and noisy birds.
From the center, we returned to the lodged and a feast of kudu steaks cooked over the braai coals. Braai, or brei, or however you spell it is just a raised brick bed which coals from the fire are scooped on and cooked over. The decision was made to go look for lions. The ranch that was having issues had dragged some intestines along a road and placed them in an area which may give us a shot at them. Daniel had five depredation tags and three CITES permits for lion and was under direction to shoot what he could. To back up a bit, in March this year this area suffered a one-in-500 year flood which took out roads, bridges and many huge sections of fence between Kruger and the surrounding farms. A pride of 11 lions had discovered the buffalo on the adjacent farm and were taking a toll on the numbers of buffalo. The farm owner got the permits and was keen to have the lions "educated". When you have a farm, you own the animals on it. That is, any game animals EXCEPT for CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) animals. Lions are part of this, so we had permits and the kitty's were in trouble.
As it happened, we had made quite a haul at the liquor store that afternoon and unless the lions were tied to a tree, there was likely little chance that Sparky or I would have any chance to shoot one, especially seeing how lions are not a good thing to wound and even with the .416 Rigby elephant gun we MIGHT have had a chance to use.
The lions were safe, but we had a neat experience none-the-less. We pulled into the area where the intestines had been left and turned off the lights. There are quite possibly more stars in the southern hemisphere than anywhere else. We had been shown the southern cross, the pointer stars, the scorpion constellation, as well as how to find the south point of the compass using the southern cross and the pointer stars. As we sat there, drinking, which we did a lot, Daniel let out a bizarre howl. Apparently, that is what hyenas sound like, because somewhere in the dark, one answered. Daniel repeated this and we sat quietly and awestruck at his ability to get these spectacular predators to respond to his voice. That is, we sat quietly until Sparky let loose his version of the hyena call and we never heard from them again. So, a couple of un-named Canadians tried their best moose calls in hope of bringing any wayward swamp donkeys out of the bush veldt. (It didn't work. None came out.)
A question was posed to the group regarding any interest in going to an African bar. The response resulted in a moderately hairy tour through a "short cut", bringing us out on a highway which led us towards the African bar.
I was hoping it would be a rustic place, full of trophies and hunters, but "The Safari Club" bar turned out to be a disco of the highest order, the only difference to a Canadian night club was the giant fire burning outside on the patio.
To put fears to rest, I determined that of the five of us in the party, I would be our best bet to get us back to the lodge safely, so I curtailed my drinking (to this point I had been drinking Amarula liquer on ice) in preparation of wrestling the keys from our PH. (The gory details of the debauchery and foolishness that took place in this bar will be left for personal presentation.)
Once the placed closed down after 2, we headed out. The males of the group played rock, paper, scissors for the right to drive home. I didn't win, but drove anyway. I had driven a right hand drive one day in Australia, but now I was able to figure things out and off we went into the African night. It was quite an experience, three significantly impared creatures in the back were making lots of noise and attempting to give me directions, but I had a pretty good idea about where to go, so we went. (A small encounter with an African animal marred the trip, but we got to the lodge relatively unscathed.) It was an experience.
Daniel and I were the last up, sitting around the roaring fire until 4, at which point we determined we needed to be in the blind at 6:30, so I would set my alarm and would see him in the morning.
Thus ended Friday.
Posted by morganhart
Archived in South Africa
I think, it has been one week. We seem to have lost a day somewhere. I think....
So, Saturday was for warthog hunting. The plan WAS to get up, be in the blind by sun up and wait for pigs. The plan WAS a good one, it just didn't work out that way. I set my alarm for 6:30 p.m., Sparky was snoring happily when I got up at 9:00 and continued to do so until woke up at 10:30, Daniel and Joost were sitting in the lodge, watching rugby on TV and re-hydrating. Tammy was unavailable for comment, having being unceremoniously delivered to her room when we got home, whenever that was.
We had cereal and headed out to build blinds. A previous hunt there had left some blinds in place, but we built a couple more. The plan was to sit over waterholes and watch for pigs. This was not an easy activity. The waterholes are what we call dugouts and they were huge. Shots could be from point blank to 200 yards, and taken from precarious perches in prickly blinds.
We went back and had a late lunch and were in the blinds around 2. Daniel and I sat a waterhole which would have provided difficult shots, had any been available. Instead, I took pictures of Egyptian geese, cranes, herons, francolin, bugs, plants, etc.
Sparky and his PH were in an elevated blind and the excitement they had involved a crocodile sunning on the bank of their waterhole. They, too, didn't have any acceptable targets come to water, so the day went unpolluted by gunfire. BUT, the day wasn't over.
When Sparky and I were organizing this adventure, we filled in a survey with our dream species. My list included porcupines, which are large and mutated versions of what we have in Canada. Joost knew this guy that worked somewhere that did something, etc., etc.. In the end, we headed to a large farm outside of Hoedspruit for a spotlight hunt for porcupines.
We met our hosts, climbed into their bucky, got our shooting instructions (kill all porcupines, kill all pigs, don't shoot the antelope), and headed off. The farm owner was on the spotlight and we headed to a potato patch. Our first field produced our first quill pig. I blasted it four times with #4 birdshot and hardly slowed him down. Joost's buddy handed me a round of 000 buck, and the porcupine was done. (We changed to 000 for the rest of the evening). I posed for pictures with my unique trophy and we continued on our way. My next porky was a one-shot kill, the third was another single shot, and then Sparky claimed the last one. No pigs were seen, so Sparky's big gun went unfired.
The farm raised citrus fruit and potatoes, and the porkys were wreaking havov on the spuds. It was a great experience for us, and a good thing for our host who really, really hated porcupines.
Off to the lodge and then up for early morning waterholing.
Posted by morganhart
Archived in South Africa
Pig hunting, crocodiles, and The Piggy Happy Dance
Sunday rolled around, quite uncermoniously. It was an early night and our plan to arrive at the blinds early came about as plan. Daniel and I went to a blind near a water source where we previously seen buffalo and other critters. We spruced the blind up with a few new bushes and made ourselves comfy.
Everywhere Daniel went, his dog "Routoo"? went. Routoo, spelling unknown, is Afrikaans for honey badger. This is a character dog. He had two speeds - on and off. While in the blind, he slept. While walking anywhere, he was smelling, running, jumping - being a dog. Daniel was training him as a tracking dog for finding wounded game and at one year old, he showed promise. He managed to find my gemsbok and get the living poop kicked out of him because the amimal wasn't quite dead yet, but he kept it up. His final showing of disdain for the gemsbok was to bite the antelope on the butt and pull out a mouthfull of hair.
On this particular day, nothing was happening at the waterhole. Nothing. After about an hour and a half, a lone blue wildebeest bull - often called a gnu - showed up. Then he went away. Daniel was impersonating his dog and napping, which left me to defend us from intruders. Luckily, no defending was necessary.
As I sat there, I heard a snort off to my left. One thing came to mind - buffalo!!! The black death!!! The nastiest two tons on the plains!!! Nope. Giraffe. A great, big, long necked, dark phase, goofy looking giraffe. He was coming in towards the waterhole and I was getting ready to add to my giraffe pictures when the dog had a bad dream, or decided the snort was from something bad, and he barked. This dog is trained only to bark when he finds a downed animal and I hadn't heard him except then, until now. Daniel grabbed him by the snout and gave him some very distinct instruction in Afrikiaans, I assume to shut up or he would get shot. Regardless, the giraffe heard him and took off, stopping about twenty metres away. The only reason I could see him, of course, is because he is so freakin' tall. He snorted for a while and left.
We decided that there wasn't much left to do but leave, so we did. We hung out at the lodge and waited for the other pair to show up.
The lodge needs some description. It is owned by a business magnate who owns shopping malls and many businesses around South Africa, and only comes to the ranch a couple times a year. Sark, as the ranch is named, has a few thousand acres of largely unspoiled bush veldt. There had been little to no hunting on it for the last 10 years. a few animals had been taken, but the kudu were huge, as were the giraffes. Animals were managed by the hyenas and leopard who came and went as they pleased, the fences offering little resistence.
The buildings are traditional brick and plaster with thatched roofs. The main lodge is beautiful with the natural thatched cathedral ceilings and the grounds are highlighted by a pool in the main lawn and the main buildings connected by covered walkways. We were told to carefully look into the dark at night when travelling between the lodge and our huts - which were detached - and look for eyes. At night we would encounter waterbucks and some unknown eyes, and during the day we saw kudu, giraffe, eland, monkeys and waterbuck at the waterhole just beyond the lawn. It was a great place and an excelllent setting for our truest African experience.
We decided that we would go out after 2, partially because it was stinking hot - likely around 26 and dry as a popcorn fart, and partially because we were going to be leaving the next day and it would be handy to have some time to repack.
Two o'clock rolled around and Daniel and I sat in the raised blind by the crocodile waterhole. The ladder to the blind was rickety at best, but the view was excellent and within an hour, Daniel and the dog were fast asleep. About 12 kudu came in, as well as a collection of giraffes, and of course, the crocodile. He never came out of the water, but cruised around with only his eyes and nose sticking out. There was a duck which had issues with him and followed him around, sometimes getting close enough to peck him and then scoot away.
It was a great spot and I was able to get lots of pictures and was able to get my best view of the famous African sunset. The day was quiet, although at one point I heard a shot - where it came from, I couldn't tell.
We spent the last half hour of shooting time cruising the openings of good pig country, all to no avail.
Upon arrival at the lodge, we found Sparky and Joost in a familiar position, sitting around the fire drinking brandy and coke. It turns out Sparky got his pig, right in the lodge yard at the hay storage yard. It was a neat pig, but managed to break a tusk in his final seconds. The highlight of his hunt, however, happened when the ranch workers found out a pig was shot. The workers get half of the meat and the other half is sold. Warthogs are seen as the common man's meat and they are always glad when they get some. Apparently, and I wish I could of seen this, was the workers with their wives and children - and Sparky - doing the "Piggy Happy Dance" across the lawn. It would have been quite a sight and a better video.
After another great supper, the day ended with us sitting around the bouma, having a sundowner and our last breath of a leadwood fire. We decided that I would spend the first few hours of Monday hunting from the truck, hoping to find a big pig or the monster impala we caught a glimpse of the day before.
Posted by morganhart
Off to the exotic city of Durban?
I awoke to footsteps on the stairs. I picked up my iPhone and discoverd it was 10 to 4. I had turned the volume on my phone down while playing crib outside the internet cafe and forgot to turn it up. I ended up getting dressed in the close I had wore the day before and hauling my butt down to a fast breakfast. Then I hauled my butt upstairs again to get my iPhone which I left beside the bed. AAARRRRGGGGHHHHH...
The drive was quiet. I had the dog sleeping at my feet because if he was in the back, he would just whine all the time. Daniel and I spoke sporadically during all of our vehicle time - which was quite a lot - but it tended to be me asking questions about hunting, South Africa, the countryside, or other inane topics.
We had a two way radio connection to Joost and Sparky which provided some good entertainment. The decision was made to stop at a truckstop where you can stand at the urinal and look out at a large pasture holding buffalo, rhino and other creatures. Unfortunately, the dog threw up on my shoes before we could get there, so we had an unplanned stop at the side of the road. The plan to stop remained, but the fog was too thick for us to see the turn in time and we got caught in the passing lane. A stop was taken at the next service stop (it was a toll highway and there were limited places to stop) and we were able to get hot sausage rolls and coffee. The dog followed us everywhere and I got to see a funny - yet common - display. We were standing in line at the hot food counter when an employee came out of the employee door, saw the dog, shrieked, and ran back inside. I didn't realize it at first, but it was the dog that got her. After purchasing our stuff, we went outside and encountered her coming around the corner. Again, she shrieked and ran away. The ever present gas station security guards laughed and the dog just looked around. Apparently, many black people in Africa are scared of dogs. I thougth about it and realized I had actually seen very few dogs. THAT would be why.
We got to Nico van Rooyen Taxidermy in Pretoria and unloaded our heads and hides. The next step was to have them recorded, receipted and our mounting instructions taken. I went to the office and asked to speak with Adel. I didn't know if Adel was a he or a she, but it turned out she was a she, and boy was she a she. As tall as me and plain old gorgeous, she even caused our unflappable PHs to pause and smile. It was strange to see a fashion model quality woman walking over to a pile of skins and checking things out. Sparky and I sat down with her to come up with the mounting instructions for our trophies. A worker brought us some really good coffee - which is a rarity in Africa, I have learned - and we made our plans and looked through the catalogs ordering to our hearts content, prices to the wind. Well, not really...
After getting reciepts for our deposits, we headed off for O R Tambo airport. Twenty minutes into our trip, we were caught in a traffic stoppage on the highway. We could see with our binoculars that there was a horrible accident about a kilometer ahead and over the course of the next hour, two helicopters would land to take people away. Once traffic started moving again, we passed the scene and it was nothing I want to remember.
Even though Sparky and I were in different vehicles, we both knew we were going to be close to missing our flight. We got to the terminal, unloaded our stuff and headed in. Sparky, the queen of disorganization, couldn't remember the flight number so we were either leaving in five minutes, or an hour and a half. Luckily it was an hour and a half. We were even luckier that Joost and Daniel came with us because when we got to the Mango Airline check in, they informed us we couldn't take our guns on the plane. We had, or thought we had, secured storage at the airport, but we found out that the guy who was going to store our guns lost his license and neglected to tell us. We don't know if we were going to get ripped off or what, but we lost our storage option. Luckily, Joost offered to take our guns and meet us Saturday when we were transferring between planes.
Check in done, much needed potty breaks taken, we were off. Once through security, we had a burger at Wimpy burger and then figured we had about 15 minutes till boarding started - at least that is what our tickets told us. As it was, we walked to the gate and right onto the plane. It wasn't full and we had aisle seats across from each other. The flight was quick and to the point - nothing fancy and it was on time. Luggage pick up was at conveyor D, and mine wasn't there. To quote Linus van Pelt "Good grief, Charlie Brown". This adventure HAD been going too smoothly.
I checked in with Mango baggage services and found out my bag was held because there was undeclared ammunition in it. I looked at Sparky and he whistled and looked away. HIS bag had ammo in it, so of course, I got the x-ray guy that paid attention.
My bag would come in on the next flight, three hours later. The only thing we could do is drink beer, Facetime with home and explore the King Shaka airport.
The fligtht came in, no one asked any questions or anything, and we were off. Took a cab to the hotel and all was well.
We knew the hotel wasn't new, was an art deco original, and that it was near the casino. We didn't know it was hosting the Durban International Film Festival, or that our rooms would have this great of a view. Even though it was dark, we could make out the breakers on the beach across the street. Very Cool.
Posted by morganhart