“Old Yellow Shoes” and I first met during January 2012. We had been in contact via email prior to the Dallas Safari Club Show, but had never formally met each other. I was therefore understandably caught by surprise when a big man with a wide grin and the brightest luminous yellow shoes stepped into our booth and introduced himself as the man with the “Yellow Shoes – Steve Travis”.
At first I started a bit hesitant, I had worked through our previous correspondence and his selection of species and wishes was no walk in the park. He had done his homework and had a fairly good understanding of what was required to achieve his goals. Only one snag – this Professional Hunter wasn’t overly convinced by his client’s initial appearance. Did this man realize that his goals were set EXTREMELY high and that we’d have to hunt like men possessed? Only time would tell.
Late March rolled along, with Steve arriving on the midday flight from Cape Town. He would be joining Professional Hunter, Carl van Zyl, and tracker, Swayi, together with hunting dogs, Bongo and Foxy. The idea was to concentrate our efforts along the Coastal Area, before heading north later in the week. Steve was after a selection of specialized Plains Game species, which required us to hunt both areas, at the same time keeping a beady eye on an approaching front blowing in from the west. Rain was on its way.
With the front approaching at a rapid pace the hunters took full advantage of their circumstances that first afternoon.
Day two saw us rise at 05.00am; it would be the start of a long day – to be exact, 22 straight hours of hunting. We set off with the hounds at first light on the hunt for Caracal. By midday still no decent scent had been located, so we called it a day, hopeful that the planned evening’s predator calling session would produce the desired results. For the remainder of the afternoon we turned our focus on Kudu, Waterbuck and Cape Bushbuck.
Numerous good Waterbuck bulls were spotted, but it wasn’t until late afternoon that we laid eyes on a monster. He was feeding along a cliff overlooking the Kariega River. We quietly stalked down from our glassing position, gained the required 600 yards, before Steve settled onto the sticks. The bull lunged backwards, away from the cliffs edge, as the shot hit low on the shoulder. Within seconds he’d disappeared into cover without any further sound or movement. We called in Bongo and Foxy.
That evening we hunted hard. Our good friend, Sticks, joined us for the calling. To our disbelief we had no response, not even a reply from a sly Black Backed Jackal. At 03.00am we stumbled into bed, disappointed in not finding a cat, but elated with our success on Waterbuck. Our lack of success in calling should have warned us that the front was upon us, the animals’ response to our efforts was a warning of what was to come. The following morning saw us rise to dark thunderous clouds, before the heavens opened onto the plains of Africa.
The dogs tried valiantly for a second time that third day, and were rewarded with a fresh Caracal scent. They managed to tree the cat in tough circumstances, before the cat jumped. Unfortunately the dogs beat the hunters on this occasion – it was time to head north, hopefully into better conditions.
Having arrived in the north we immediately set out after Springbuck. Our hopes for calmer conditions seemed to be falling on deaf ears; the storm was building serious momentum. We joined up with our old friend from the Karoo, Niel Schoombee, and were treated to an afternoon that will long be remembered. Niel’s knowledge, experience, and passion compiled over 26 years of Springbuck management all came together on a stormy afternoon. It was a privilege sharing in this great mans passion.
Day four saw us rise to the worst day of all. The weather gods were stacking all the odds against us, yet we continued on. No weather was going to halter or hinder our hunger for continued success. I was starting to get a better idea of the kind of hunter I was guiding.
Together with Niel we set off to a 27000 acre concession on the hunt for Black Wildebeest, Blue Wildebeest and Black Springbuck. Trying to reach the area was a daunting task in its own right, 80mm of rain had fallen the night before, and the roads were in a state of disrepair. The Toyota trudged along battling the muddy conditions. We saw a number of Wildebeest that ticked all the required boxes, but the rain never allowed us any break during the course of the morning.
With conditions showing no signs of improving and the mountains becoming alarmingly dangerous to navigate, we finally called it quits and decided to relocate to another area for the afternoon.
To give all perspective on the conditions we were facing, we stopped off along the way at the local farmers supply store and purchased a pair of rubber boots and dry socks for Steve. We were soaked!
Arriving at our new area we immediately started seeing more game. The terrain was more forgiving and conditions were starting to improve.
After a fun photo session with Steve’s Black Wildebeest and the improving light, we set off after a herd of 200 + Black Springbuck. It would be a daunting task getting within range with that many eyes and ears. To our luck we spotted a lone ram in a canyon away from the main herd. We started our stalk through some rocky terrain.
With the fading light just about gone, Steve made the final 300 yard shot of the day, bagging a Common Springbuck to compare his breath taking Kalahari ram too.
Day five saw us back on the road, heading south again. Steve had experienced the usually arid Karoo in a different manner to most. He had seen “real” rain in the desert, when it finally does arrive, it pours with conviction.
Back on the coast and we were on the hunt for Blue Wildebeest.
The next morning saw us up at 5am once again. I promised Steve a good chance on a Caracal when we met in Dallas, I wasn’t about to let him down. Endless effort and perseverance would surely pay off in the long run.
The dogs set off in various directions from the kill; it was evident that the cat had spent a good few hours in the area. When things finally settled down, the older dogs took over. It was impressive watching the experienced heads lead the way.
We headed back to camp in the plan of relaxing for the remainder of the afternoon. It seemed our short lived blue skies were just about a distant memory once again – another storm was rolling in. It was time to bunker down.
Back at camp we found ourselves wondering around, to be quite frank, we’d been on a roller coaster ride up until this point. It felt unreal sitting around waiting for dinner. I suggested we head off to the skinning shed to check up on our tagging. All was in order and we still had 3 hours of day light left, we headed off to the neighboring concession.
We pulled up onto a slight plateau overlooking a big valley and glassed for anything interesting. A few Kudu bulls were braving the cold drizzle while not much else was willing to move an inch. An hour came and went, and not much had changed. Without realizing it, we were too busy glassing into the distance to notice the black spot right below us, a mere 300 yards away. When we finally did notice it, it was time to jump and move quickly. I needed to convince Steve that Bushbuck don’t often feed in wet conditions, and if they do, they’re usually the sneaky old rams, breaking routine to stay ahead of the game.
Our last day was spent on the lookout for any opportunity that crossed our path. A Mountain Reedbuck provided a near anticlimactic end to our safari when Steve hit him too far back in windy conditions. Thank goodness we had Bongo and Foxy along, as it gave Steve the chance to experience these two terriers doing what they do best when the odds are stacked against you. They pulled us through a tight spot and earned their keep to hunt another day.
Getting back to the skinning shed, once again soaked to the bone – We called it a day. “We had achieved a near perfect safari if it weren’t for the uncommon wet conditions”, I noted to Steve on the last evening heading back to camp. Steve turned and smiled; “Now what makes you think that wasn’t the perfect safari?”
Upon Steve’s return home we received a fantastic letter…..
I just wanted to send you a note and thank you once again for such a fantastic safari. When we talked at the Dallas Safari Club Convention this last January I informed you I was fortunate enough to be traveling to Cape Town in March for a business convention and was just looking to extend the trip with a mini six day safari to relax a little after my work was done. As you know I have hunted all over the world and this was by no means my first time to Africa. I knew after talking to you in Dallas that I was going to have a good time, but what you personally, and John X Safaris gave me was beyond anything I was expecting.
This was clearly my favorite hunt of the eighteen safaris I have been on. I have never had a PH or guide anywhere I have hunted that worked harder or was more professional and dedicated than you were even when we faced some very difficult and unexpected weather in the Karoo, you are truly 100% mate!
Eleven superb animals in 6 days were unreal. My goal on this trip was to take a really nice Nyala and the elusive Caracal, and then see what other animals of exceptional quality we might run across if any. Wow did you ever deliver! A 28 and ½ inch Nyala and a 31 inch Waterbuck as well as a stud of a 17 inch Kalahari Springbuck and my long sought after Caracal. This would be enough to make any hunter happy for a long time, but then also to be able to take a Blue and Black Wildebeest, Cape Bushbuck, Steenbok, Black Springbuck, Common Springbuck and Mountain Reedbuck – all of exceptional quality!
I’m still trying to figure out how you pulled it off, I’m convinced you are part magician. Your camps and staff were truly first rate and the food and scenery exceptional. I will always remember the rain, on one occasion in the Karoo when I thought I would never see an animal, and my feet were so wet we had to drive to the nearest town to buy rubber boots and new socks, I learned an important lesson. Carl never gives up! We took five beautiful animals latter that day; you give new meaning to the phrase going above and beyond what is expected.
This Texan also greatly appreciated your warm South African hospitality in welcoming me into your home after the safari was over to see my first Rugby match. I was very happy to spend the evening with you and your lovely wife, Trish, and help you root on your Cape Town Stormers as they whipped out the Bulls!
I’m counting the days until I come back in the spring and bring my wife and son, they have heard me talk about my adventures in Africa and hunting trips around the world for years, and I can’t think of any better place to take them for their first safari than John X.