Sustainable hunting is arguably the finest form of conservation in Africa today. Some species have been brought back from the brink of extinction while others have seen their numbers explode due to the demand created by hunters. Every single species needs a sustainable value to thrive, but others are slightly more complicated when it comes to their survival.
It goes without saying that our Rhino is in big trouble. With the ongoing poaching scourge leading to devastating losses throughout Southern Africa, and mostly South Africa, who boasts more than 80% of the Rhino population on the planet, we are sitting in a crisis unfathomable to the first world.
For our Rhino to survive we have created a value and means to protect their existence via the Vita Darting Experience, and that’s where our good friend Aaron Davidson came in adding his weight to the cause. Aaron’s list of “don’t have” has become smaller with each passing safari. Chasing the little guys can become somewhat frustrating at times, so when the vita dart idea came up we all jumped at it.
Electa had joined her Dad on her maiden hunt to Africa, following in the footsteps of her twin brothers, Danner and Derec, starting off with a few “first ups” to get into the swing of things.
Some of our “first ups” weren’t your traditional ones, but neither was Electa. Aaron has always expressed his desire to share Africa with his children, but he warned me that Electa would hunt us off our feet if given half a chance. And how right he was! She spotted the game and got set up faster than any other young girl her age that I’ve had the pleasure of guiding in the past. When tasked to make the shot, no matter how difficult it may have seemed, her response was always one of confidence and optimism, best summed up by her East Cape Kudu at over 700 yards. Don’t miss that show on Gunwerks Long Range Pursuit in the coming months.
Aaron added to our efforts with a pretty impressive Mountain Reedbuck while up in the north, before heading on to start our Vita Dart experience.
As to ensure the shooter would be familiar with the dart gun we set-off to get in some range time with the various scenarios and to prepare the shooter with what to expect. It’s an exhilarating means of hunting allowing the hunter to experience the thrill of stalking these pre-historic beasts to within thirty yards before letting a vitamin dart fly from a dart gun. Once the hunter has darted the Rhino with the prescribed vitamins, a licensed veterinarian immobilizes the animal from a helicopter, where after blood samples, micro-chipping, DNA ID’s, pregnancy tests and a number of check-ups, are administered as part of the management and well-being of the animal on an annual basis. This all sounds fairly straightforward in theory, but throw in a +-5000 LB animal and a game of cat-and-mouse and you’re dealing with an entirely different scenario, a challenging one at that.
Arriving at the range I noticed that mischief smile Aaron get’s when he’s up to something he hasn’t shared with me. I’ve come to notice over the years that he loves sending me a curve-ball from time to time. I was right. Alecta got out of the truck to see what her Dad was up to with the dart gun when Aaron handed her the gun. “You’re up young lady”; and that’s all it took to see a young girl live out a dream.
We spotted a crash of White Rhino off in the distance and started our stalk from about 800 yards out with the wind in our faces. During our stalk, as we approached cautiously, the feeding Rhino bedded down for their morning nap lapping up the sun’s rays on a chilly Karoo morning. With the Rhino fast asleep and a constant breeze in our faces, we got to within 17 yards for Electa to make the shot.
At the last moment, the Rhino sensed something was up and rose right in front of us. If the bull wasn’t already big enough, it now towered out above the dainty figure of Alecta whose heart could be heard thumping in her throat. She stood motionless for a second, took a deep breath to re-gather herself and yanked the trigger. I literally thought she’d pulled the trigger out of its casing as the bull took off in the opposite direction with two females in close pursuit. The vitamin dart was in and Alecta was smiling.
Next came the vet with our helicopter which was on standby, darting Alecta’s bull with the required M99 to put him down. From there it was time to step back and watch the experienced team go to work on the downed Rhino, finally giving Dad and daughter a few photo opportunities before waking the bull again. It was an experience I’m certain the two of them will never forget.
By this stage Alecta had pretty much achieved everything and anything she may have dreamt of in Africa, giving Aaron and Garrett the reins for the remainder of the trip. Aaron and I were still plugging away at our Cape Grysbuck, which by this stage was giving us a hiding second to none.
John Mercer had teamed up with Professional Hunter, Martin Neuper, hunting from both our southern and northern areas. These two got on like a house on fire, best summed up when one afternoon we met them on a blind bend down in a ravine, singing away to the chorus of some old country song from way back when
The south treated them well with a number of memorable setups and long shots shared around the pub in the evenings. A broken horned Waterbuck was one of our favourites. Imagine the story behind the break? Looking at his sheer size and mass with the huge neck it left one wondering how old this bull truly was.
Up north they pursued Springbuck, coming away with the traditional Springbuck slam of Common, Black and White up in the Great Karoo.
John’s Cape Eland was however a highlight for all involved. It took a solid effort with a ton of luck and a superb shot when the opportunity finally presented itself. It summed up so much of how John’s hunt went… just superb in every sense of the word.
For Dennis Charleton it would be the hunt he had always dreamt of with his 7 mm LRM. Having met PH, Ross “Stix” Hoole, at the Houston Safari Club show during the previous January, the two hit it off from the word go. After their initial meeting, and having discussed Dennis’s priorities, Stix asked Dennis to consider hiring the crew from GTS Productions along on their safari. Dennis didn’t hesitate and GTS did not disappoint…
With each hunting party going about their business in what we like to refer to the “Gunwerked” way, we finally turned our attention to Garrett and what he was after during his 2018 safari.
Garrett like Aaron, is a man amongst men, always putting the needs of others ahead of himself. I’ve lost count of the amount of opportunities Garrett has given up for others to enjoy and therefore the reason for my gift to Garrett this year. I wanted to introduce him to the Tiny 10 and the wonders of hunting these unknown species. I dully took him Blue Duiker hunting with the terriers…
We had a blast coming away with a great Blue and a superb Gemsbuck bull up in the north, to go with his already impressive Gemsbuck female from some years ago.
Of course, there’s very little this team doesn’t do together, with Garrett’s Lechwe being a highlight of our hunt towards the end of our safari.
Aaron and I FINALLY broke our vudu with a Cape Grysbuck just as the bell rang for the final round. And then to top it off we finally got our 6″ Steenbuck. The “unicorn” I had hoped for in our Tiny 10 collection.
It had been three fantastic weeks with Aaron and the many friends of Gunwerks. We had given it our all and hunted hard to walk away feeling boastfully proud of our hunters and their results. Frustrating at times and optimistically over-confident at others, which is largely the reason why we hunt, not so? There will always be those that got away… And then there’s those that didn’t.
It was a certain pig that just about broke us in more ways than one. Talk about playing with our emotions. The one minute you’re in and the next you’re out. Giving one hope and then dashing one into a state of hopelessness.
Garrett’s turning into quite the “pig whisperer”…. how else can one explain his luck on the big ones at such a regular rate. This one however will take some beating in adventure and size. But more about that pig, the dig and the comical moments for another day. That was Gunwerks in Africa 2018. We can’t wait to start the adventure all over again during May/June 2019.
Want to join John X Safaris & Gunwerks on safari with your Gunwerks rifle during 2019? Contact us today for all the info. It’s going to be a big one with watershed opportunities.