Having received good rains right at the start of our spring in September last year, the summer looked to be a promising one before the annual berg winds decided to stick around for longer than they traditionally do. The growth was there and the condition of the game most certainly proved the theory of a “green drought” more so than ever. During these conditions the country side leaves a pleasing sight to the eye, green on the surface but very little bulk growth and even less surface water, allowing one to be wooed into a false sense of illusion. It’s the follow-up moisture that counts most of all after a good start, and none of that truly arrived until six weeks ago. Ever since then we’ve been spoilt with unbelievable summer storms. Every last possible dam/pond is filled to the brim and the late growth is giving its all to ensure the bulk is there for the winter.
With the country-side starting to show off in full bloom we welcomed Scott, Stephanie and Daniel Steiner on their first visit to John X Safaris. Scott brought along his bow and enjoyed immediate success on a superb Nyala from our newly built blinds at Woodlands Safari Estate. It was beyond rewarding seeing the blinds come into play so soon after having been completed, a testament to the time Clayton and the crew had put into them during the off-season.
While Scott was enjoying his time out in the field, Stephanie and their son Daniel, were making the most of the opportunities within our Foundation and its involvement at the Carlisle Bridge Farm School. Together with the PV6YW ladies from Stephanie’s local church in Utah they collected and gathered up six bags of stationary and school supplies for the students at the school.
The appreciation from the kids and teachers left our visiting friends quite emotional, yet at the same time in awe at their spirit and zest for life. The mood turned infectious and soon the entire school, including Daniel and Stephanie, were in full chorus as they celebrated the little things we so often take for granted in our daily lives.
With more natural food becoming abundant with each passing day Scott decided to exchange his bow for a rifle and in doing so take the opportunities as they came. A rifle/bow combination safari is often the best approach under time constraints when a hunter only has a handful of days available for his safari.
Scott’s Kudu and Waterbuck were highlights for both him and the team. Like most hunters to Africa will tell you, you don’t ever shoot a Kudu. A Kudu is earned by the sweat on your brow and the dust on your boots. Put in the miles and you’ll be rewarded with a smile.
A photographic safari to Addo Elephant National Park saw Daniel and his photographic passion come to life as we saw fewer Elephant than we usually do, but witnessed a Cape Buffalo literally make its way in from two hundred yards out to less than five, taking a mud wallow right at our feet.
Scott would top his safari off with a fantastic bow kill Impala after a patient stalk while Daniel used his camera to capture the magic of the East Cape Experience.
And as the Steiner’s left for home having embraced our culture and enjoyed the magic of the East Cape we welcomed back some family of our own. Steve and Haylee Travis and their son, Justin, are no strangers to our part of the world and for that matter most of where we hunt in Africa. Steve and Professional Hunter, Carl van Zyl, have shared more adventures on the Dark Continent than either cares to remember, but each year they take on a new one. They’ve been at it for close on ten years now, and this year proved no different as Steve brought along his son, Justin, on his graduation safari before he heads off to college in a few months time.
This would be Justin’s 3rd hunt with us, having started out in our John X Jr Hunter Program back in 2015. Having watched Justin’s development and growth over the years, and admiring the effort both Steve and Haylee have put into raising a fine young man it gave me great pleasure when Steve first sent me Justin’s “wish list” for his safari.
A Cape Eland was right at the top, a specie that will always get the heart pumping. And please NEVER compare a proper Eland with a Brahman bull in my company. I may bore you to death for the next hour in explaining a few wonderful characteristics an Eland does not share with a Brahman, something Justin and I feel the same about. A Vaal Rhebuck was next in order of importance. Anyone who knows me will tell you my week has just been made by the thought of the mountains and Vaal Rhebuck above 6000 feet. Add in a couple of Tiny 10 requests and you’ve got me pumped for an exciting week on safari.
We focused on Cape Eland first and enjoyed the pleasure of hunting huge herds up in the mountains. At times we could hardly make up our minds as we looked over various bulls, debating which bull would be the right one to hunt. When we finally narrowed it down to two old blue bulls we gave Justin the final decision. Red or Black? In the end he went with the black mop bull to compliment Steve’s fantastic red mop Eland from a previous safari.
With a superb old Eland in the salt we turned our attention to a special leg of our hunt. This safari would be about Justin and going after a few of his preferred species, but Steve would join us in our Rhino Conservation efforts by taking part in our Vita-Darting Program. Our program allows a limited number of Vita-Dart Experiences each year, ensuring funds raised from these opportunities are pumped back into the protection of our Rhino. With ongoing illegal poaching and the costs associated with protecting our Rhino, it forms an integral part of ensuring sustainability of the specie.
We rose well before daybreak on the morning of our Rhino hunt and set-off on a day not to be forgotten for a very long time.
After the initial vitamin dart by Steve and the follow-up by the helicopter and wildlife veterinarian to immobilize the bull, the team jumped to action micro-chipping the horns and running a number of checkups on the animals health.
When the dust had settled on our day and Steve had some time to reflect he rated the day as one of his most memorable in Africa. That said a lot coming from a man who had hunted all over Africa with me. The very same man who had done the triple in a day on Cape Buffalo not once, but twice in two different African countries.
Our Eland and Rhino had set the bar pretty high as a start that the following few days up in the mountains hunting Vaal Rhebuck would push us to the limits. We looked over at least 150 Vaal Rhebuck over the course of the next few days, not quite finding the ram or scenario we were after. When a massive thunderstorm pushed us off the high ground late on the third day we decided to regroup and change our tactics.
Needless to say our tactics worked… and in a big way if I could say so myself. It’s not everyday that one hunts a Vaal Rhebuck in this class which made for a special trophy, but more so than the trophy was the hunt itself. Here was the kid who first arrived to Africa a “greenhorn”, keen to the hilt but a long way off from the complete hunter. But having endured some of the toughest mountain hunting in Africa and walking away with his head held high I could not help but feel a sense of pride with Steve in Justin’s achievements. You stuck it out when many would have quit. Respect young man. Respect.
With the Karoo delivering as per usual and time running out we turned course towards the south and Woodlands Safari Estate. It would be Steve and Justin’s first visit to Woodlands as we had been on safari in Tanzania on our last hunt together.
We wrapped up our safari, hunted a bit, mostly just visited, and planned the next great adventure….
A special word of appreciation to Daniel Steiner for the addition of great images for our latest blog.