Nestled in the hills on the boundary of the Transkei, between the Great Kei and Kubusi Rivers, lies an area few have ever heard of, and even fewer have hunted. For generations, it has been the secret of the locals who have safe-guarded this little known region to the outside world. Over the years Kudu numbers rose and what at first was seen as a rarity soon flourished into a stable Kudu population over the past two decades.
The lay of the land, characterized by heavy wooded gorges and valleys, with limited access saw a Kudu quality develop like few have ever seen. Kudu living in the back valleys with little to zero human contact experienced an explosion in the population that saw the landowners, the ultimate custodians of the wildlife, find old remains of massive bulls and old cows who had died of old age on a more regular basis. It was time for the landowners to step in and start managing the population and at the same time see their efforts rewarded.
As a team we had plotted and planned, and had embarked on a trial hunt earlier in the season in the surrounding region, a 40 000 acre high fenced concession, as to gauge what we would be in for as a team on this particular hunt. Of course we knew how to hunt Kudu, we’ve been hunting Kudu for over 35 years, but this was a new region with a different style of hunting and an entirely different beast when it came to judging these bulls and their trophy quality.
There are so many factors that play a role in the success of any given safari that no stone can ever be left unturned. This hunt in particular saw the added pressure of taking on the unknown and ultimately sticking our necks out and walking the walk after we had talked the talk. It was “go-time” on a hunt that very few would ever consider offering, let alone risk their reputation on.
My old friend Aaron Davidson and I had discussed the possibility of this hunt for the better part of two years, his vision and gutsy attitude was instrumental in getting this project off the ground. I knew what we had found was good, but I needed someone to push me over the edge into taking a big leap into the unknown. Aaron was just that man. Few people I know see the world in the same manner that he does. In the end he had not merely convinced me, but got me excited for the challenge. “We’ve got nothing to lose. Only sweat and hard hunting. Let’s do it!” And that’s how he summed it up and that’s precisely what we did.
Our plan for this safari was to start on the Kei, hunting for big Kudu and a select group of game from that region before heading back to Woodlands Safari Estate towards the end of our hunt, wrapping things up at our base.
With this being the opening season for the region and so much of it being an unknown with regards to the correct quota and off-take we decided to approach things as conservatively as possible. The landowners together with the local Nature Conservation Authorities had set the quota while we went in hard giving it our best shot.
Guns were sighted and checked after the long journey to Africa and then it was time to get the teams out glassing. The Kudu rut was on and the bulls were moving.
Chris Tipton and his Dad, Larry, joined us on safari for the very first time. Hunting with PH, Greg Hayes, and Tracker, Bless, they would be treated to an extraordinary first experience. Spending time together as a father and son is always a cherished occasion, but doing it in an unspoiled piece of Africa so many miles away from their own homes made for something quite memorable.
A truly impressive Nyala combined with Impala, Zebra, Lechwe, Blue Wildebeest, Black Wildebeest and Blesbuck would make for a successful hunt, but it would be the all important Kudu that proved to be the golden lining on this first African hunt for the Tipton’s.
With Chris settling our nerves with the first big bull in the salt the rest of us got going with a few beauties of our own.
Jason and Lena Goodale had arrived a few days earlier than the rest of the group teaming up with PH, Martin Neuper, and Tracker, Thandi. Jason’s folks, Jay and Cheryl, had come to join them for the first leg of their trip, hunting from both our southern and northern regions before heading down to the Kei.
Lena had set her hopes on a big Sable as far back as January when we had discussed this hunt in the US, while Jason was after a big Kudu and whatever else Africa might send his way.
Lena’s Sable was as impressive as always while Jason’s opportunistic Warthog and Caracal provided for much excitement as they continued their pursuit of Kudu. Having honored an agreement on the first morning of the hunt, which saw Jason walking away from a huge Kudu bull, due to the fact that the bull was out of the agreed hunting zone for that particular morning, the hunting gods must have recognized the kind of sportsman Jason is, blessing him with a monster a few days later.
Jason had hunted his bull right at last light, with this picture being taken the following morning. The magnitude of Jason’s bull hadn’t quite set in the previous evening as the guys had run the “light gauntlet” the previous afternoon. With a fading light and a rutting bull on the move the hunters knew they would have to make a run at it, and even then their chances were still slim. If it weren’t for Jason’s hours on the range and his Gunwerks system then the reality of this bull would never have been realized. What a specimen in every sense imaginable.
As for our old friend Garrett Wall, whom we have shared a number of epic adventures with in the past, he once again took what Africa would give him. Garrett has come to learn over time that you hunt what ends up in front of you as that’s the only way to make the most of those unexpected “monstrous” opportunities.
A proper old Cape Bushbuck and a unlucky Warthog boar which had rut himself into trouble made for some great hunting and a couple of long shots to get Garrett warmed up for the opportunity on Kudu he had hoped for. Having spotted a number of bulls going about their business in this amazing hunting paradise, meandering in and out of the thickets and gorges, we settled on a Kudu bull which gave us the “jitters” just admiring him through the spotting scope.
Every single one of us who were there were most grateful we weren’t on the rifle ourselves with a bull in that class and an eager team sweating it out watching all unfold, but Garrett stepped up and made a superb shot walking away with a Kudu to be envious of. What a bull it turned out to be!
Aaron who had played an important role in getting us all together would focus on a big Kudu. Aaron has just about hunted everything on offer in the East Cape, but strangely had never hunted an Impala. It reminded us of the famous hunter, Watson “Yoshi” Yoshimoto, who at the end of his illustrious hunting career asked his team to log every animal mounted in his museum. He had full mounted every specie he had ever hunted and when the team came back to him and reported that all possible species were accounted for except a Common Duiker he famously summoned them to do it all again. Needless to say the result remained the same after the second exercise and he ended up coming on a ten day hunt to South Africa to hunt a Common Duiker. Imagine the frustration back then when traveling was not as comfortable and accessible as it is today. We dully hunted a huge Impala and Common Reedbuck with Aaron reminding us the only reason he had never hunted an Impala before was because his PH had never put him on one big enough!
With an Impala in the salt and a number of exceptional Kudu being harvested over the first three days of our hunt we were hitting the glass as hard as ever. I was sitting with Aaron, Marius and Garrett watching a particular gorge which we felt could produce what we were after when PH, Ed Wilson, went on one of his many “walks” to glass a different spot after having gotten bored of glassing the same valley. Having found little else except a couple of rutting Warthogs he started heading back in our direction when high up on the opposite ridge he spotted a massive bull feeding with a group of cows. At over 1500 yards it didn’t take rocket science to see this bull was big. His narrow but deep spread was a characteristic we all knew often surprises one when it came to final scores.
At over 1500 yards and a fast fading light there was no way we were going to force the issue. We’d have to sleep on it and return before sunup the following morning. We pulled out of camp at 03:30 that morning as eager as ever. With a rising sun in the east we had positioned ourselves beautifully as to make the most of the morning rays piercing past us over our shoulders.
An then as if it were a script that we were a part of but never knew the ending too, we spotted the bull again, this time 800 yards lower down the valley from where we had left him at last light. We made a quick run for it down the hill and up the other side, breathing hard from the lack of oxygen and the sheer excitement which had engulfed us. Aaron settled down and Garrett hit the record button while Ed, Marius and I peered through our spotting scopes. There were some brief moments of silence.
But those moments of silence hardly lasted very long, as the second Aaron touched off his shot the bull collapsed at over 1100 yards and the team erupted in ecstasy. We had done it!
As for our old friend, Uncle Dennis Charleton, an avid Gunwerks and John X Safaris supporter over the years, he once again teamed up with PH, Ross “Stix” Hoole, Tracker, Jimmy, and his very own Videographer, Ozzy. Uncle Dennis hunted a few spectacular animals along the way as well as two big Kudu bulls, the first being a great old brute heavy from the base to the tip and the second could be one of the most spectacular bulls ever hunted. The area and the hunt combining both the Kei and Woodlands Safari Estate made for special viewing and hunting…. enjoy Uncle Dennis’s hunt and you’ll understand why we’ve fallen in love with this little known region.
This hunt proved to be something quite extraordinary. For each of us who were there to experience and be a part of that first hunt, I do believe were privileged beyond our own imaginations. There’s only ever once a first and we were there.
A couple of weeks after the hunt had passed and I was up in the mountains of the North when I received a voice note from my mate, Garrett Wall.. ” You know Carlos I think our hunt and the reality of what we did and achieved has finally begun to set in. What the landowners have achieved with the land, those Kudu and everything that went with this hunt was something similar to the stuff of legend. It’s something to cherish.” I shared the same sentiment as Garrett, blessed to have been a part of the very 1st GREATEST KUDU HUNT ON EARTH.
A special word of appreciation to the many great people involved in this 1st Kudu Group for the region. In no particular order but to the most important people who afforded us the opportunity, our hunters; Chris and Larry Tipton, Jason and Lena Goodale, Uncle Dennis Charleton, Garrett Wall and Aaron Davidson. My team of Professional Hunters and Trackers; Greg Hayes and Bless, Ross “Stix” Hoole and Jimmy, Ed Wilson and Ropsey, Martin Neuper and Thandi – you all are the reason we’re the A-Team. Keep it up boys! To the Brill Family for hosting us in your comfortable lodge, the views from camp was something we’ve never seen before. To the Landowners who have protected and nurtured this Kudu hunting paradise – We salute you gentleman and look forward to growing our partnership sustaining not only your beautiful Kudu, but all the game of the region. Last but not least to Marius Potgieter – We could not have done it without your relentless never say die attitude and effort. Thank you. We can’t wait to do it again come 2020.
For 2020 John X Safaris have secured 3 Exclusive (Trophy) Kudu tags, and 5 Classic (Management) Kudu tags going along with the Bushbuck, Nyala, Eland and a host of quality plains game in the region. Both these 7 day hunts will be hosted by John X Safaris & Gunwerks as we invite a handful of hunters joining us on this opportunity of a lifetime for what has been dubbed “The Greatest Kudu Hunt on Earth.” See more details and rate sheet or give us a call to discuss: (307) 296-7301. Learn More