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Archive for the ‘Long Range Shooting’ Category

“A single day in Africa compares to the experience of an entire year anywhere else on the planet when it comes to long-range hunting.”

I’m no expert on the subject of long-range rifles, for that I have my good friends, Aaron Davidson and Garrett Wall from Gunwerks to fall back on, but I can tell you a thing or two about long-range hunting in Africa. I’ve had the privilege and pleasure to have shared more hours in pursuit of African game with these two guys than any of us can remember. We’ve chased our fair share of “unicorns” as Aaron likes to put it on the odd occasion, but have succeeded in putting a fair number of those in the salt too. Our days in the mountains combined with the kind of banter that only close friends could handle has seen us build valuable experience over the years. Over time we have learnt a great deal about the Gunwerks system and the variables, such as tough wind-calls and difficult setups, that go along with the challenge, as well as African game and their behaviour at greater distances. Each year we learn something new and try to share that with fellow hunters around us.

This year proved to live up to expectation once again with two groups of hunters joining the crew from Gunwerks. Aaron and I teamed up for close on three weeks, while James Christianson joined us for the first half, before Aaron’s daughter, Electa, and Garrett joined us for the second leg of the trip. With them we’d host a number of hunters proudly sporting their Gunwerks rifles ready to take on Africa and whatever else came their way.

The father/son duo of Randy and Ryan Smith teamed up with PH, Ross “Stix” Hoole, and tracker, Thanduxolo, for an unforgettable first trip to Africa. The guys were looking to experience as much as possible over the eight days of hunting, while making the most of the scenery and camaraderie around camp. While hunting would be their priority, they weren’t stopping at only making an impression on our wildlife through sustainable hunting, but would impact the lives of the local children in our community even more so.

The Smith’s together with Rich and Lynah Guild would take our John X Foundation to new heights through unchartered waters. As a team we have always carried aspirations of bigger projects each year, hoping to make a significant difference in our local community. With the identification of the Carlisle Bridge Farm School as our latest humanitarian initiative we set to work sharing our plans and dreams for the future. Within minutes of arriving at the school one could see the impact the dire situation of the school had on our hunters. They too, now understood why we chose to support this little country school on the banks of the Great Fish River.

 

Their support would provide funding for stationary and sporting equipment as well as a new well for drinking water. The existing well had not been in any kind of working order since the late 1960’s, with scholars collecting water from the river each day. A comprehensive solar plant was installed to provide electricity and a computer for the very first time in the schools history. The day when the lights went on things changed for the kids of our community. Words cannot describe the appreciation and gratitude towards these amazing folks. Thank you is the least we can say. Over and over and over.

With Mr. Rich and Mrs. Lynah’s work completed at the school they set off with PH, Ed Wilson, and tracker, Bongani, on the hunt for plains game. A Kudu, Bushbuck and Nyala were three BIG priorities for Rich. The spirals fascinated him and he was determined to work hard at hunting quality trophies on the desired spirals.

He duly did so and then made the most of a number of specialized Karoo species up in the north. Rich’s Gemsbuck in particular was one he worked extremely hard for, with the Springbuck being a certain must when hunting in South Africa.

His Sable however stole the show in more ways than one. Once a hunter lays eyes on the most striking and majestic of all on the plains it can be hard not to be in utter awe of these immense animals.

A superb bull it proved to be.

As for Stephen Beaudet and PH, Rusty Coetzer, it would be a collection of specialized East Cape species. They concentrated a fair majority of their efforts up in the Great Karoo, hunting the classics such as Gemsbuck, Springbuck and Hartman’s Zebra.

Stephen’s Gemsbuck in particular proved to be one of the picks from the safari amongst the guides. The sheer size of the bulls body combined with fantastic mass from bases to tips made him one impressive bull.

His Wildebeest, both black and blue, were hardy old bulls well past their prime on the downhill slope of life. Perfectly placed shots did the job on his Wildebeest while his collection of Springbuck was of top quality. Some cold and windy conditions added to the challenge, but the Gunwerks system came into its own once again delivering the goods.

As for Stephen’s Hartman’s Zebra… judge it for yourself. Just a gigantic stallion to say the least.

Jason and Lena Goodale together with PH, Martin Neuper, had a later start than the rest of the group. The Goodale’s had some pending business to wrap up prior to their arrival in Africa which took longer than expected, but they still made it out which we were most grateful for. Their time was limited but by the end of day two one would never have thought they’d arrived a couple of days late.

Two great East Cape Kudu bulls were in the salt before we knew it and they were out putting the hammer down on the rest of the competition. We could hardly keep up with them as they truly made the most of their limited time.

With our hunters hard at it and satisfied smiles around the dinner table greeting us each evening we thought it best we started hunting ourselves and get going on putting the new Revic through its paces in Africa.

Aaron and I don’t plan much anymore these days, we both know what we have hunted before, but we’re always open to an upgrade. Some of our previous trophies will more than likely be quite impossible to upgrade on, but we never rule out anything when it comes to our time together each year. The big bonus however was having James Christianson along.

For James it would be a first trip to Africa, and I’d be lying if I wasnt quietly envious of what that must have felt like.

James, like most, wanted a Kudu, Gemsbuck, and Zebra, with anything else being a bonus along the way. We hunted hard for his Zebra and then made the most of an old goat shed on his Kudu. A brute of a Warthog boar with only one tusk would be James’s final animal in Africa, but not before an epic hunt for Gemsbuck and a proper Springbuck at Niel’s up in the Great Karoo.

As for Aaron… Well we did find a piano out in the middle of a field one morning. A strange sight it was which inevitably led us to a great Caracal with the hounds.

Aaron finally got his long-awaited Bushpig after some serious commitment on a cold winters night. We’d been putting it off for a number of years now, but our trail cameras edged us on to make it happen this year.

The smiles from both Aaron and Clayton said it all. Here was one of the true monsters for 2018. Bushpig hunting can be such a hit and a miss at times, and no matter how much prep goes into it, there always seems to be a new challenge that arrises.

Towards the end of the first groups leg we got our Copper Springbuck up at Niel’s. A ram that ended up surprising everyone, including Niel. Talk about some “ground growth”. With a few of the most specialized East Cape species in the salt, and our list of “dont haves” becoming shorter by the day I knew we were in for a few tough hunts for the remaining leg of Aaron’s hunt. But first we would say goodbye to a truly remarkable group of hunters….

These people came to Africa to hunt, but left leaving so much more than just their footprint on the conservation of our wildlife. The impact of their contributions will be something spoken about for many years to come. We salute you and your desire to assist us in making a difference. You are not merely hunters and conservationists, you’re custodians of our hunting heritage.

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By Cal Zant – The shooter/author behind PrecisionRifleBlog.com

I’d never paid for a hunt in my life, at least up until a few months ago. I’ve been a die-hard hunter since I was big enough to carry a firearm, but I’ve only hunted small parcels of land owned by family. Over the past 20 years, I’ve spent countless days in the field and have taken a couple nice mule deer and whitetail that were big for my area, but I’d never hunted outside of West Texas.

A friend sold me on the idea of an African safari, and it turned out to be one of the greatest experiences of my life. It was especially rewarding as a long-range shooter. Honestly, I didn’t have a clue what to expect in terms of what a safari would look like, what animals I could expect, how outfitters worked, or how much it might cost. But the trip changed my view of hunting, outfitters, and even long-range shooting. So I wanted to share my experience with you guys, because I wish someone would have told me about this stuff sooner!

Why Africa?

Last year, I attended Long Range University in Wyoming and Utah (view post). While there, I had the chance to pick the brain of Aaron Davidson, founder of Gunwerks and TV host on Long Range Pursuit. If you’ve seen the TV show, you’ve watched Aaron literally travel the world on one dream hunt after another. So we are worlds apart when it comes to hunting experience.

As I talked to Aaron about long-range shooting, I was very impressed. Not only does he have a ton of real-world experience, but he’s an extremely knowledgeable guy on the technical side of things (not surprising since he’s a Mechanical Engineer). What was especially refreshing was Aaron wasn’t overly dogmatic in his views. When I meet a knowledgeable person who is humble and doesn’t try to pass off their opinions as unquestionable facts, I tend to become more interested in what they think. My experience with Aaron was exactly that.

I eventually asked Aaron what his all-time favorite hunt was. I figured it was a question he got a lot, but he paused for a while as he seemed to run through hundreds of hunts in his head. He told me it was a hard question, because so many hunts were memorable or rewarding in different ways. But he went on to say if he had to boil it down to just one, it’d have to be a kudu hunt he was on in South Africa with John X Safaris. He said “As a die-hard backpacking DIY mountain hunter, I hate to admit that my favorite hunt is a South African safari. For a long-range shooter, a 10-day trip can get you 10 years of shooting experience. It truly offers the best training environment I can think of.”

Up until that point, the top of my bucket list was hunting red stag in New Zealand. I’d seen an episode of Long Range Pursuit where they went on the hunt I had in mind. Aaron told me there are a lot of cool hunts to go on, but there is something really special about an African safari. He said “You have to do Africa first. I’ll connect you with one of the very best outfitters in South Africa, and I guarantee it will be an experience you’ll never forget.” Remember how earlier I said Aaron wasn’t dogmatic? Until that, I’m not sure I’d heard him speak in absolutes. But after seeing the passion and conviction from such an experienced hunter, I was convinced.

Planning & Getting There

I invited a close friend of mine, Cory Cisco, to join me, and he jumped at the opportunity. Cory is a veteran hunter, and over this past year, he’s joined me for a few PRS club matches and started getting into the whole long-range thing. I was already planning to take my family to Kenya on a mission trip this year, so after looking at both of our calendars it looked like October 1st would be the most convenient time. Now if you could pick any time of the year to go, I’m told mid-April through July is the optimal time to go, since that coincides with the rut for many of the animals there. Cory had his first child during that window, but his wife encouraged him to go on “the hunt of lifetime” before they got too busy in this next season of life. (Sounds like she is a keeper!)

Aaron connected us with Carl van Zyl at John X Safaris, and we picked our dates and wired our deposit. Aaron recommended we hunt a full 7 days. He felt anything shorter may feel rushed or you’d wish you’d spent more time when you got there. So that’s what we went with. We flew into Port Elizabeth, South Africa on Oct. 1st, hunted Oct. 2nd-8th, and flew out on Oct. 9th. John X Safaris has many hunting concessions across several countries in Africa, but their home base is called Woodlands Safari Estate and it is located in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, which is just a couple hours northeast of Port Elizabeth.

Our Hunting Guides (i.e. PH’s)

Ross Stix HooleWe flew into Port Elizabeth, South Africa, where we were greeted by Ross “Stix” Hoole. Stix is a Professional Hunter (PH), which can be thought of as someone who has been professionally trained and certified to be a hunting guide. By the end of our 2 hour car ride to the John X home base, Stix had already earned my respect. I’ve been engrossed in long-range rifles at a high level for several years now, so I’ve naturally spent more time learning, reading, and talking about this than most people. Over time, I’ve learned to treasure moments when I can have a deep conversation with someone who is just as excited about topics like rifles, cartridges, and bullets. Stix is a very personable guy, but he’s also very sharp and knows far more than just hunting. For example, we didn’t just talk about the well-known cartridges like 300 Win Mag or 6.5 Creedmoor. Stix told me about a custom 28 Nosler rifle he was having built, and asked me about the 375 Lethal Magnum, which is a very new and even more niche cartridge used for extreme long-range shooting. We also talked bullets and terminal performance, and he shared his wealth of real-world experience. I could already tell I was going to enjoy spending 7 days with Stix.

When we arrived at the facilities we met Ed Wilson, the PH who paired up with Cory for the next 7 days. Ed is a guy that is fun to be around, because he always has you laughing. But, make no mistake; Ed is a serious hunter. Ed is a well-respected PH, who has consistently taken some of the largest kudu and other animals in the Eastern Cape.

The Hunt

Okay, on to the hunt! Our PH’s preferred that we start by sharing what animals were on the top of our wish list. I had asked Aaron for advice on this point, and he said the best safari experiences he’d had was when he didn’t fixate too much on one particular animal, but instead was more of an opportunistic hunter. He said that takes a lot of pressure off the PH’s and makes the whole experience more enjoyable for everyone. So we tried to take that perspective, but when pressed for the top animals, Cory and I both were hoping for a big, mature kudu as our #1, and gemsbuck as our #2. We ended up taking 7-8 animals each, but in our eyes, those were the most beautiful and iconic African plains animals, and if we were really honest we’d be disappointed if we didn’t return home with one of each.

The Locations

We hunted a full seven days, and over that time we hunted properties totaling over 100,000 acres. Some of that was low-fence, free range, and some was high fence. I was skeptical that a high fence hunt would be as sporting, but I didn’t understand how different those were in South Africa. Here in Texas, some high fence areas are less than 1,000 acres. But the smallest high fence area we hunted in South Africa was 25,000 acres, which is almost 40 square miles! So you may know there are trophy animals on the property, but good luck finding them!

We hunted from John X Safaris southern and northern concessions, stretching from the coastal region with its valley bushveld all the way to the Great Karoo with its mountains and plains. The terrain varied dramatically. I’m from west Texas, which is big country … but much of the areas we hunted were eerily familiar, with thorny brush and prickly pear cactus. We primarily used a spot and stalk approach, and glassed a lot of country every day. Most days consisted of starting fairly early, crawling in 4×4 vehicles along primitive ranch roads, and hopping out to walk ridgelines or hike through a valley to glass up into thick patches of cover.

The areas we hunted had at least 28 species of game on them, from plains animals to dangerous game like cape buffalo and leopard. One evening a few in our group heard the roars of a lion pride on an adjacent property. Even though all of those animals may coexist in an area, the hunting tactics and approach can vary dramatically depending on which you are after. It was intriguing to learn from the PH’s as we hunted different animals, and they told us about their ideal habitat, and feeding/movement patterns.

Most days we had a specific animal in mind, and we’d spend the majority of the day glassing and hunting that animal. But, our PH’s knew when it might be a waste of time to continue looking for one animal, and we’d switch to another for a couple of hours. For example, during the middle of a hot day, some animals will seek deep shade and stay put while some other plains animals are more acclimated to the heat and are more likely to still be moving. Or while we were glassing we might spot a mature animal that was further down on our wish list, but we might decide to audible and try to get in a position to take a shot.

To give you an idea of what our day-to-day looked like, here is a summary timeline:

African Safari Timeline

This would become a book if I tried to tell you about each of the hunts, but I can tell you they were much tougher than I expected! My watch tracked my activity each day, and I ended up hiking over 50 miles! What’s obvious from the timeline is we spent the majority of our time looking for big kudu. While hunting kudu was time-consuming and very challenging, it turned out to be my all-time favorite hunt.

Kudu bulls are the most majestic animals I’ve ever seen, but they may also be the most elusive. Your best odds to out-smart an old bull is during the rut, but unfortunately that was in June … and we were there in October. I was told by a few veteran Africa hunters that the odds would be stacked against me, because the old bulls are often loners that time of year. Kudu blend perfectly into their surroundings. You may spot a group of them on a hillside grazing, but I found it almost impossible to spot a lone bull standing in the dappled shade of trees. Our PH’s knew mature kudu in October would be a tall order, but they were excited to join us for a challenging hunt.

Kudu in BrushAfter a few days, Cory & Ed, finally spotted a fully mature kudu. Ed got them in a great position, and Cory dropped it with one shot. But to show you how tough these animals are to spot, Cory snapped this photo of his kudu when he walked up to retrieve it. That’s hard to spot a few feet away, much less hundreds of yards away through binoculars! Like I said, kudu blend perfectly into their environment, which is a big part of what makes this such a challenging and rewarding hunt!

By the time we got to our 5th day hunting kudu, Stix and I had seen a lot of bulls. We had taken long looks at a couple of them, which were very close to being fully mature. Stix knew what the area had to offer, so I learned to trust his judgement as we passed on a few really good bulls in search of a great one. But after a few days of looking, we found ourselves mentioning the possibility of a “last day bull.” It was at that point that I knew for sure this was NOT a “canned hunt!”

After days of looking, we finally spotted a mature bull with “a full turn.” While my other 6 animals were taken at distances from 430-865 yards, this bull was closer to 100 yards. However, the terrain made it hard to find a spot to set up for a shot, so I ended up finding a clearing a little further back and resting my rifle on my tripod. I found the bull in my scope, and was waiting for him to step into the open when an even bigger bull stood up right behind him! I can remember actually hearing the pulsing of my heartbeat as I started to squeeze the trigger.

Our persistence and patience ended up paying off, with a 50” Eastern Cape Greater Kudu (meaning one horn measured 50” long)! It turned out to be the largest kudu bull they’d taken on their new property. The official SCI measurements totaled 117 7/8”, which is not only a record book kudu, but is gold level and represents the top 1/3 of all records for that species. It is an absolutely stunning animal, with beautiful markings and mane, and its horns have massive bases with deep curls. … and we got it in October, no less! What a satisfying end to a tough hunt!

I wish I could share all the stories and experiences from the trip! Cory and I took 7-8 animals each. Each of us ended up with 3 trophy animals that qualified for the SCI Record Book, and the rest were cull/management animals they allowed us to hunt at discounted prices. But the animals were just one piece of the experience, which were only amplified by things like listening to baboon calls echo through a valley, watching various pygmy antelope species dart in and out of bushes, hearing the deep bark of a big kudu bull 20 feet away, seeing giraffes and cape buffalo, and meeting interesting people with exotic stories. It’s simply too much to capture in a post!

Here are photos of a few of the animals we hunted.

Here is a summary of all the animals I took, along with distances and trophy measurements:

Animal Distance SCI Measurements
Gemsbuck (low fence) 526 yards 84 3/8” (35.4” length, 7.3” base)
Impala 430 yards 51 3/8” (20.5” length, 5.5” base)
Cull White Blesbuck 865 yards
Cull Impala 451 yards
Cull Kudu 725 yards
Trophy Kudu 100 yards 117 7/8” (50.1” length, 9.5” base)
Waterbuck 430 yards 70 3/8” (26.9” length, 8.4” base)

Each hunt was challenging in its own way. The terrain can make it difficult to even find the animal you’re after, but then you’re forced to read the wind and environment, figure out how to get in a position to take the shot, find your range and dope, and execute the fundamentals … all while trying to manage your nerves! Each time I got behind the rifle, it was the same rush of adrenaline. It really did feel like I got several years of hunting experience packed into 1 week!

African Safari Tradition & The John X Experience

Facilities

A few people asked me before the trip if we’d be staying in tents while we’re hunting, and I told them I really didn’t know what to expect. While I typically research things to death, I blindly trusted Aaron’s recommendation on this trip. He has hunted all over the world, so if he strongly recommended this place, I knew it must be “good” … whatever that meant! But, when we pulled up to the John X Headquarters, I was shocked. The facilities they’ve built over the past year is nothing short of a 5-star resort.

Cory and I each had private suites with king size beds, a nice bathroom and shower, central air conditioning, and a wood burning stove for ambiance. The landscape and views were the “Africa” we had in our head.

Food & Service

After staying there for a solid week, I can say the service and food was nothing short of a 5-star resort either. The four course meals each night would impress foodies, and compare to $100/plate meals here in the states.

The service was similar to a Ritz Carlton or Four Seasons. Here are just a few little touches to give you an idea what I’m talking about:

  • Complimentary daily laundry service. Just leave your clothes in a basket in the room, and they’ll be clean and neatly folded on your bed when you return.
  • Each night we’d enjoy appetizers at their bar, where hunters and staff would swap stories and jokes before dinner. They offer all kinds of complimentary drinks, but as a recovering alcoholic, I just asked for a Coca-Cola. Someone took note of that on the first night, because from that point forward there was a cooler stocked with cokes in our truck as we hunted.
  • Each evening when we came in from a hunt, the small wood burning fireplaces in our rooms would be freshly lit. The rooms had central air conditioning, but the fire just added some ambiance and on the day or two that it rained, it was a warm and welcoming touch.

I learned that, unlike other hunts around the world, traditional African safaris are built around exceptional service and hospitality. When Theodore Roosevelt went on his African safari in 1909 he was greeted with 265 native porters, horses, wagons, and 64 tents. He hunted hard during the day, but in the evening he drank from a wine glass and had a team of people catering to his needs. South Africa in particular takes hospitality very seriously. In fact, to become a certified PH there, you must prove you’re knowledgeable about the animals (i.e. biology, habitat, seasons, etc.), how to process an animal, and can care for the meat and hides. But they go beyond that, and require each PH to prove they can prepare a delicious meal and host a dinner for their guests.

Not only is South Africa serious about hospitality and service, but John X raises the bar even higher. They have a facility manager focused on providing an exceptional experience for guests, plus the PH’s themselves also go above and beyond. They wake up early to ensure the coffee is ready for their hunters, but also so they’re intentionally available for conversation if one of their hunters was ready a little earlier than expected. When they return in the evening, they don’t consider themselves “off-duty.” They are there to host their guests, and make their stay memorable. At John X, the staff takes professionalism to a whole different level, from everyone on staff wearing “John X” logowear the entire time to the PH’s polishing their boots each morning. Honestly, I’ve stayed at some nice resorts before, but the team at John X took service to a whole different level than I’ve ever experienced.

Our Hunting Rifles & Gear

I spent 10 days in East Africa with my family on a mission trip before Cory and I joined up in South Africa for the safari. Unfortunately, Kenya doesn’t allow you to enter the country with a firearm, so that meant I couldn’t bring my own rifle. Since Cory was flying directly to South Africa, he brought two rifles in his name and I borrowed one for my hunt. Cory bought a lightweight 7mm Rem Mag precision rifle for the trip, which is a pretty ideal rifle for the plains game we intended to hunt. My custom 7mm Rem Mag hunting rifle would have been perfect, but unfortunately South Africa has a law that prohibits one person from bringing in two rifles of the same caliber.

So although I’d prefer a 7mm, I had to either decide to go down to a 6.5mm or up to a 30 caliber or larger. I thought about getting a lightweight 6.5×284 from Gunwerks or even taking my 6.5 Creedmoor precision rifle, but I was concerned that it may not have enough stopping power for some of the animals like kudu and gemsbok. I’d hate to wound an animal that I couldn’t recover, so I decided to go up in size instead of down.

I recently bought a custom 300 Norma/338 Lapua switch-barrel rifle, but I designed it for extreme range shooting. It weighs 22 lbs. fully loaded (i.e. with optics, mount, bipod, etc.), which makes it extremely comfortable to shoot, but that’s far too heavy for spot-and-stalk hunting. I thought about spinning up a barrel for a 300 WSM that I could just screw on one of my custom short action rifles, but I couldn’t think of another time I’d use that cartridge other than this trip, so it seemed wasteful. One of my close friends suggested I take his Sako TRG 42 chambered in 338 Lapua Mag. While a 338 Lapua might be overkill for plains game … what does “overkill” even mean? Is there a risk of the animal being too dead?! So I went with it. Here are the two rifle setups we ended up taking:

Africa Safari Long Range Rifles

Cal’s Setup:

Cory’s Setup:

And I figure some guys might be wondering what other gear we went with for this trip. Traveling that far makes you think through what you need and what you don’t … and how to get it all as light and compact as possible. So here’s a brief summary of some of the other gear I lugged ½ way across the world! (Note: None of these companies “sponsored” me or asked me to publish this. I do a lot research before I buy, and just thought you guys might like to hear where I landed and what my experience was.)

  • Rifle Case: Custom version of the Americase Two Gun Safari Case (view custom drawing). I was anxious about flying internationally and handing over our rifles to airline baggage handlers. Once I knew I was headed to Africa, I ordered this case. It’s heavy, but it’s bullet-proof. I’ve also been using this to carry my primary and backup rifles to matches, and it has worked well.
  • Backpack: Kifaru X-Ray. This is Kifaru’s bestselling pack, because it’s a great size and is the smallest pack with an internal frame. Kifaru tailors each pack to the individual, so the fit is perfect. This is also my primary pack for rifle matches.
  • Binoculars: Leica Geovid HD-B 10×42. These binos feature top-shelf glass and an accurate integrated rangefinder. I ran a thorough field test of most rangefinding binos, and these came out on top … so they’re what I carry.
  • Rangefinder: Gunwerks G7 BR2 Ballistic Rangefinder. My Leica’s have a rangefinder, but I carry this unit because it has an integrated ballistic engine that is very accurate and easy to use for quick elevation and wind adjustments. This thing shines when you only have a few seconds between when you spot the animal to when you need to pull the trigger. I’ve verified the dope it outputs to 1,200 yards, and its dead-nuts on.
  • Tripod Setup: Gitzo GT1542 Mountaineer Tripod, Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ballhead, and Hog Saddle. This is a SUPER-lightweight tripod Aaron told me about. For their TV show, they must carry heavy camera equipment into the field, and he thought the weight to strength ratio of this tripod was the best on the market. After using it for more than a year, I agree. I can’t find a more lightweight setup that provides the same steady platform this does.
  • Ear Protection: ESP Stealth Custom In-Ear Ear Protection. I hunted with a muzzle brake on my rifle to minimize recoil and keep the carrying weight down. But firing a rifle with muzzle brake and no hearing protection can do permanent, irreversible damage to your hearing. I’m around rifles too often to not use hearing protection. I didn’t want to use big muffs or foam inserts for 7 days straight, and also didn’t want to waste time fumbling around for those when it was time for a shot. I’d been looking at some of these high-end, amplified, custom molded, in-ear models for a while, and this trip pushed me over the edge. Lots of competitive shotgun shooters use these, and they’re outstanding. I wore them for all day for 7 days straight, and they were very comfortable and heightened my senses. I love these things!
  • Clothing: Sitka Gear. This was the first time I ever wore high-end hunting clothes, and WOW! A layering system was a smart move. I had a light jacket, mid-weight vest, and thermal pull-over. At times I might have a shirt and all 3 layers, but as the day warmed up I could always find some combination of the 3 that was the right warmth/breathability for any condition. Yet all 3 items packed down to the size of a heavy coat. I also wore the Sitka Timberline Pants every day, and they were perfect: rugged, comfortable, and the removable kneepads were a must-have in some places we hunted. Sitka’s tagline is “Turning clothing into gear,” and it’s obvious they put a ton of thought into every square inch of their product.

Pricing

I realize most hunt articles like this never mention price, and doing so may be taboo. But I didn’t have a clue what a hunt like this would cost, and I was honestly surprised you didn’t have to sell a kidney to be able to afford it. So I thought it might be helpful for some of you guys to see a ballpark estimate for what a hunt like this might run. While I don’t want to offend anyone or come off as bragging, I do care more about being helpful to you guys than being “proper.” 😉

Cost Estimate for Africa Safari

On many big hunts like this, you’re required to pay a lot of money before you even start your hunt. Most of that is non-refundable, regardless of whether you harvest an animal or not. At John X there is a relatively small base price, and then you just pay for the animals you shoot.

The animals in the price summary above are just the ones that Cory & I were interested in, and some spend closer to $15,000, but it just all depends on what animals you are after. Here is the full list for costs on all their animals: John X Safaris 2018 South African Price Sheet. They also typically have some options for cull animals, which are deeply discounted, but the availability varies based on their management strategy and need at the time.

In case you’re like me and aren’t familiar with what “dream hunts” like this might cost, here are a few others for comparison:

  • 3 day hunt for 150 B&C score whitetail on King Ranch in Texas: $6,000
  • 4 day red stag hunt in New Zealand: $6,000-$12,000
  • 5 day elk hunt in Colorado: $6,500
  • 5 day mule deer hunt in Mexico: $13,500
  • 9 day grizzly bear hunt in Alaska: $14,000
  • 10 day moose hunt in Alaska: $15,000
  • 7 day desert bighorn sheep hunt in Mexico: $40,000-90,000

Keep in mind, all those hunts are for a single animal. Also travel and taxidermy aren’t included, and in most cases license, tag, rifle permit, trophy export fee, and other things aren’t included either.

We hunted several species of animals over 7 days with 1-on-1 professional guides, and each took multiple trophy animals that qualified for the SCI record book. We also had some of the best accommodations, food, and service I’ve ever experienced. I realize not everyone is in a position where they can afford these prices, but in comparison to other “dream hunts” … an African safari seems like a bargain.

Tips & What I’d Do Differently

Air 2000 Hunter Service

Cory and I had never traveled internationally with firearms, so we were a little nervous about the paperwork and getting through customs in country. Carl from John X told us about Air 2000 Hunters’ Support Service, which offers a “Hunter Meet & Greet” service. They help you obtain the necessary firearms permits in advance of arrival, then meet you in-person right when you get off the plane to assist you through immigration, baggage and firearms claim, firearms sighting by police and customs, and re checking the firearm and ammo to your destination. I can’t tell you how much that helped! It was just $180, and having a local expert made the entire process getting in and out of the country very smooth and stress-free. I’d highly recommend that service.

Time of Year

Our October hunt was the end of the season for the outfitter, and while the weather was amazing, it likely made it a little harder to find mature kudu bulls. If you hunt during the rut, mature bulls can be easier to spot because they’re often with groups of cows. It’s exponentially easier to spot a group than a lone bull. However, going in October made us the only hunters on the property most of the time. This meant we had free reign and could go anywhere we wanted. We didn’t have to worry about where other hunters or guides were, which gave us maximum flexibility on where/when we could hunt. I can’t say that I’m disappointed with our October hunt. Obviously, I believe it was the hunt of a lifetime! But the dates we picked were mostly out of convenience for our schedules and may not be the optimal time to hunt.

Number of Days

We hunted 7 full days, and had a travel day on either side of that. I’m going to say that was perfect for me. I think anything shorter, I would’ve felt rushed and wished we stayed longer. If it was longer, I may have missed my family to the point it would have been distracting during the hunt. Seven days was the sweet spot for me.

Long-Range Friendly Outfitters

You should also know that not all outfitters are “long range friendly.” One of my best friends was going on a hunt in Alaska, and he asked the outfitter how far he’d be allowed to shoot. My buddy wasn’t wanting to extend the range past what was necessary, but was just wondering if there was some artificial limit in the guide’s brain. The guide told him he wouldn’t be allowed to shoot beyond 250 yards. My friend has qualified for the PRS finale, and finished in the top 10 at national precision rifle competitions. He’s clearly capable of putting a bullet where he wants at more than twice that distance, and his 300 Norma Mag has more than enough stopping power out to extreme distances. But the outfitter said 250 yards is the hard limit, because the guides couldn’t back him up beyond that. Other outfitters still have an old mindset that any long range shot on an animal is unethical. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you should sling lead at a living animal at just any distance. My rule of thumb for what is the ethical limit for a hunter is what I’m going to call “The 10/10/10 Rule”:

Cal’s 10/10/10 Rule:
Ethical Limit = The distance the hunter would be able to get 10 first-round hits on a 10” plate out of 10 attempts. The size of the plate should represent the size of the vital zone for whatever animal you are hunting, but a 10” target is a good rule of thumb for most big game. The exact distance will vary based on environmental conditions, position, and accuracy of equipment (rifle, rangefinder, etc.). For example, I feel very comfortable that if there was no wind, I was able to lay out prone, and I had time to carefully range a target and calculate the ballistics based on the current atmospherics … I could take an ethical shot out to 600-900 yards, depending on the precision of rifle/ammo and ballistics of the cartridge I was using. Better shooters could extend even further, and it still be an ethical shot. But most people who never practice or have crappy equipment might struggle to get 10 hits on a 10” plate at 150 yards, so that might be their ethical limit in ideal conditions. On the other hand, if the wind was blowing 20 mph, I was shooting off a tripod, and I had to estimate the range … my ethical range might shrink to 200 yards. Requiring 10 for 10 may seem extremely conservative, but the fact is there are always obstacles or nerves in the field that will make it more difficult to execute a shot than in practice. The key is knowing what distance you’d have overwhelming confidence that your bullet will go where you want and result in a clean, humane kill.

The guys at John X have a mature view of long-range shooting, and have seen guys like the Gunwerks crew get clean kills at extended ranges. They started off by taking us to their private range where we could verify our rifles were still zeroed, and they also conveniently had steel targets setup so we could check our dope at distances from 400 to 1000 yards. They watched whether we could hit what we were aiming at. They also didn’t just let us fling lead at animals at long-range right off the bat. As the week went by, the PH’s learned more about our capabilities and allowed us to extend some of our shots accordingly. My point is that John X has a mature view of long-range hunting, and not everyone does. A good portion of their clients are long-range shooters, so for those reading my blog … they might be the right fit.

Choosing the Right Country & Outfitter

One last tip I’d give is to understand that not all African safaris are the same. Think about it: If you want to hunt whitetail in Texas, you could choose from 100+ different outfitters. Among those, your hunting experience could range from super-crappy to hunt-of-a-lifetime. The experience may not be precisely correlated with the price each outfitter charges, but in general we all know you get what you pay for. When it comes to Africa, there are two things to keep in mind:

  1. The Country: There are developing countries where you can find budget hunts, but I’d highly recommend hunting in South Africa (at least your first time). Everyone there speaks English, they are very welcoming and friendly to hunters, and it is a relatively stable and safe country. Those aren’t the case in most places in Africa.
  2. The Outfitter: While John X isn’t the cheapest outfitter, they also aren’t the most expensive. But I can say the experience is first-class, and the PH’s are true professionals. They never once pressured me into shooting something I didn’t want to, and more than once convinced me to hold off because we might be able to find a bigger animal. That isn’t how most outfitters work, because they get paid more when you shoot more animals … regardless of whether it represents the best of what that area is capable of producing. I’ve heard horror stories about how some outfitters pressure hunters to shoot the first animal they see, and they put the responsibility on the hunter to decide whether that is a good animal for the area or not. In contrast, I feel like our PH’s had our best interest at heart, and that is really why I’d HIGHLY recommend them to any of my family or friends. That’s also why 99% of John X’s business is from repeat customers. In fact, Cory and I were only the 3rd group of hunters this entire year that hadn’t hunted with them before. That extremely high return rate cuts through all the marketing and B.S., and says more about them than I ever could.

Cal & Stix Setting Up for Shot on Waterbuck

My New View of Hunting

I originally thought this would be a once in a lifetime hunt, but I already know I’m going back. I can’t stop thinking about this hunt. But, it’s also challenged how I think about hunting. It reminds me of something I heard Steven Rinella, one of my favorite outdoor writers and host of MeatEater, say once. Steven said he’d always believed a rifle was something that had to find you. It may have been handed down to you or inherited somehow, but then you worked to make the most out of what you had. But one day someone challenged that mindset, and Steven built a custom bolt-action hunting rifle. He was shocked at how much he enjoyed getting to customize everything about the rifle, picking the absolute best components money can buy, and striking the perfect balance between carry weight and precision for his particular application. Since that time, I’ve watched him carry that custom 7mm Rem Mag rifle all over the world on his TV shows. If you’re reading this, you probably know there is nothing like the confidence you can get from a really fine-tuned and proven precision rifle, and that’s what Steven experienced and realized he had been deprived of unknowingly for far too long.

Cal Zant with South Africa KuduI was from an old-school hunting mindset that says the most rewarding hunt is when you do all the work yourself and make the most of whatever land you have access to. You setup the food plots, cleared your own shooting lanes, and carefully studied the patterns of the local wildlife (where they bed, where they water, when they travel). Then you spent 10-30 days out in the field with a laser-focus on hunting the biggest animal you’d caught on your trail cams. That’s how I rolled for more than a decade.

But, I have to admit that the most memorable and rewarding hunt in my life was hunting kudu in South Africa. That certainly challenged my old-school mindset! This was an extremely challenging and fulfilling hunt, I ended up with the largest trophy animals I’ve ever taken, and all without having to do the 80+ hours of prep work before the season even began. I’m not saying that I won’t continue to hunt locally in a way similar to what I described, but this just opened my eyes to the fact that a great hunt doesn’t have to be that way.

Leave behind the familiar and embrace the wild adventures the world has to offer. No great stories are born from blindly repeating what you did last year. Experience something new! Set a course for an adventure you’ll tell your grandkids about one day!

For more information and current updates about John X Safaris; follow us on Twitter, connect with us on Facebook, subscribe to our YouTube Channel and visit our Website.

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As published in Gunwerks Long Range Magazine / Fall 2017 / Volume 3 / Issue 1

Over the past year I have come to notice a faction within our hunting community. It may be that it has always been there and that I have come to notice it even more so than before. Having purchased my very own Gunwerks 7 mm LRM it’s something I feel which needs tackling.

As an active African Professional Hunter/Outfitter I thought it fitting to share my view, in that matter my views, on the ethics around long-range hunting. It is and has become the Elephant in the room. Hunters are murmuring about it around camp fires, deer blinds, camp sites and safari lodges.

As a whole we have so many factors working against us as a collective hunting community that we cannot afford to ostracize hunters within our ranks. The very point of ethics is a hot topic of debate no matter where you find yourself around the world.  What is ethical for one may not be for another. Working out the exact science of ethics is something more personal than factual based, therein the reason for the debate.

Had you put me in the hot seat a mere five years ago and asked me for an opinion on the matter, I’m pretty sure my answer would have been something much different to what it is today. Back then I’m pretty certain it would have been something along the lines of what the greater community traditionally finds ethically acceptable. Will my opinion differ in ten years time?  Who knows? Time will tell.

At present I’m privileged to be guiding a number of long-range hunters each year, and one who has more than likely guided more than the average guide when it comes to long-range hunting.  With Africa’s unique specie options, lengthened hunting seasons, and varied terrains and countries on offer, I get around and have come to find an acceptable ethic within long-range hunting for myself, and it seems for many of the hunters I share a camp fire with.

Since getting my 7mm LRM I’ve spent more time at the range than the previous twenty years. I’m pretty certain I’ve shot out 600/700 rounds trying to prepare for that exact moment when everything stops and its only me, my rifle, and a certain Klipspringer I’ve dreamt about hunting for a long time. In all this time I’ve been trying to envisage the feeling my hunters experience when being guided onto a great trophy out on safari. How does the guy who comfortably shoots 250 or 500 yards feel before he breaks the shot? Let alone those who have mastered the 750 range and the true class acts who continuously exceed the 1000 yard mark. It’s not easy – That I can assure you.

These guys are practicing harder than ever before. They are mastering their skill and combining it with world-class technology pushing them to the next level. They are not pitching on a hunt and flinging lead across the country side at any given target – they’re calculated in their approach and tactic. I have seen those who refuse to use their Gunwerks rifle beyond the 300 yard mark as that is their comfortable ethical range. They don’t bend the rules just because their weapon is capable of performing beyond a 1000 yards. There are those who treat a 1000 yard shot as if it were a 200 yard setup. They continuously produce one shot kills year in and year out at those astounding ranges. That has become their ethical range.

What the Gunwerks long-range system has done for the trophy hunter is something quite unimaginable to describe, while it has opened the doors for many hunters at the twilight of their safari careers to continue traveling, hunting, and enjoying the great outdoors. It has often revived experiences that may not have been possible until now. Having personally witnessed the growth in Gunwerks as a company, a philosophy, and a people with ambitious developments, one can only imagine what more there is to come.

The exciting developments that Aaron and his team keep working on to enhance their product, and ultimately your experience, will see the boundaries being tested with a system that will only perform better and more efficiently going forward. What you choose to do with that technology will ultimately be up to you as an individual. Each and every one of us, who considers ourselves to be responsible hunters, will know and acknowledge our personal capabilities and choices to ensure an ethical kill is achieved at the end of the day. How you approach that journey and what you gain out of that experience will be up to you.

Is there a right or a wrong? An acceptable or unacceptable? My answer is a most definite no. Will I squeeze the trigger on that dream Klipspringer if the opportunity presents itself? I may or I may not. It won’t matter to me what a fellow hunter may think of my choice, it would ultimately all depend on the journey I personally took to arrive at that “right” setup. Would it matter to me at that moment if my Klipspringer was 50 or 500 yards out? Never! But that’s just me personally, and if you’re a hunter, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

For more information and current updates about John X Safaris; follow us on Twitter, connect with us on Facebook, subscribe to our YouTube Channel and visit our Website.

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Back by Popular Demand – The most popular shots from last season…

With our travels across the US in full swing we have been blown away by the sheer popularity of the past season’s safari videos. The fine balance between the actual hunt and the overall safari experience is one that at times can be very hard to capture, as one cannot always predict the precise moment when something amazing is about to be witnessed. Wildlife has a way of surprising one when you least expect it. BUT in saying that, more often than not the unexpected just happens and those are the true moments that shout out AFRICA louder than any.

Our crew on the ground from Got The Shot Productions headed up by Ozzy filmed and produced some of the most amazing scenes during 2017, capturing the true essence of a hunt with John X Safaris. By popular demand here are a few of our most viewed safari videos from the past season.

Starting us off is Cable Smith on his first safari to the Dark Continent. Cable is the host of Lone Star Outdoor Radio and a guy we’ve come to know a whole lot better since his safari. Join him as he got to experience Africa from a first timers perspective, and don’t miss his Warthog “rodeo”. It’s been one of the most asked about hunts from 2017!

Or join the Smith family as they braved some extreme elements hunting plains game from both our southern and northern concessions. This father/son duo made the most of our youth hunting initiative and came away with a host of experiences hard to match anywhere else in the world.

Or jump on board with us as we leave the East Cape in South Africa and travel to West Africa. Cameroon and the Giant Eland has been a bucket list safari for many of us for as long as we can remember. Our old friends, Luther Dietrich and Jeff Edland, joined Professional Hunters, Mike Currie and Carl van Zyl, on this hunt of a lifetime. Hunting Lord Derby Eland is not for the faint hearted…

These are just a few from 2017, there are a whole bunch more on our YouTube Channel to enjoy over the coming weeks.

If any of our booked hunters for 2018 would like to have their safari filmed then don’t hesitate to reach us on hunting@johnxsafaris.co.za . GTS Productions are at your service every step of your hunt, shot for shot, sight for sight, and sound for sound. Take Africa home with you as you share your experience with family and friends.

For more information and current updates about John X Safaris; follow us on Twitter, connect with us on Facebook, subscribe to our YouTube Channel and visit our Website.

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By Horizon Firearms Derrick Ratliff

It was well before daylight when we woke up the morning of the Vaal Rhebok hunt — the earliest morning of all of our hunts. It was also very cold. We had an hour+ drive to reach the 22,000-acre, low-fenced free range area that boasted some of the highest mountain tops in the Sneeuburg range of the Great Karoo. We drove an hour over roads that don’t really compare to anything we have in the States. The closest comparison I can think of is bump gate roads in West Texas. It felt like we were on private property, and some of the time we were, but they were public dirt roads.

We arrived at a secluded property and my PH, Stix, went into the main home to let the owner know we were there. Our primary reason for stopping was to pick up Puie, the farmer’s ranch hand who lived on the property with his family. Puie had spent his entire life on the ranch and knew it better than anyone. We left the homestead and flatlands to head up into the mountains. Stix had warned us that some of the switchbacks required three-point turns, and sure enough, he wasn’t joking. A standard truck purposefully backing down cliff-faced roads added a bit of adrenaline to the hunt!

Vaal Rhebok hunting starts with glassing huge expanses of land, and fairly quickly, we spotted a group with about seven “Vaalies.” I got set up and waited for Stix’s instructions. Unfortunately (but kind of fortunately) there was no ram in the group. We watched the group cross the face of a mountainside and then continued on.

This Vaalie hunt was absolutely a team effort. We all spread out over the mountain to glass different areas. Stix spotted two females down near a canyon, but we couldn’t see very much of the land surrounding them so Stix took off on a “casual” run down the mountain to get a better angle. Not sure how far he ran, but the long steep incline was no walk in the park. This unnecessary but helpful and exhausting round trip stood out to us as just one of the many ways that the John X Safaris team members went above and beyond for us during our time in South Africa.

There was no ram in the canyon’s proximity, but in the meantime, Puie had spotted a ram on the other side of the summit. Once Stix got back, we hightailed it to Puie’s position, but by the time we got there, it was gone. Our group had been up wind from the ram, and we’re pretty confident he had winded us.

Fortunately, we had a big group that day and Stix’s tracker, Olwethu, had spotted the same ram running down and around the mountain. SO … we packed up again and took off for the other quadrant of the hillside. We got to a rocky vantage point and spotted the ram at 510 yards. Stix was almost frantic at this point — for him, this hunt was personal. This same ram had been missed the year before by a different John X hunter and two weeks before by Stix’s client in 60 mph gusting winds. This area had been inaccessible for the previous couple of weeks because of rare snowfall. Stix was amped about this ram.

We set up so quickly that I ended up using my binoculars standing on end as the rear support on my rifle. I held .75 MOA of wind with my 6.5 Creedmoor and fired at 510 yards. The Hornady 143 gr. ELD-X ammo did the job; it was a perfect hit. I’ll never forget how emotional the next few minutes were. Stix said, “I was almost yelling at you because I was just frantic panicked because he’s such a big ram!”  High fives were flying every which way – between me, Cherise, Stix, Ozzie our cameraman, Olwethu our tracker, and Puie the ranch hand, we had the best and most excited team in the country.

We hiked down to see the Vaal Rhebok up close and discovered the unique qualities of this Tiny Ten species. Their hair is more akin to fur — he felt like a fuzzy jack-rabbit. Their eyes are disproportionately big for their heads giving them excellent eyesight. My ram’s horns were 9” and 8.75”, which for a Vaalie is about as good as it gets.

As we were celebrating and taking photos, we got another adrenaline shot when Puie spotted a Jackal running across the hillside above us. In a “not sure what just happened” flash, Stix grabbed the 6.5 Creedmore, swung around, and dropped the Jackal at 250 yards. Jackals are extremely destructive predators so Puie was thrilled, and we got to see a Jackal up close for the first time.

Two of the funniest moments from this hunt include the making of Ozzie’s random smart phone video introducing his handmade Samuel the South African Snowman as well as Puie’s first ever experience with a drone. As Ozzie attempted to get beautiful, natural footage of the recovery, Puie was in awe of the drone and kept trying to look at it in the sky with his binoculars. Stix tried to explain to him in the Xhosa language that there was an eye inside the contraption that could see us and film us. Oh, what we take for granted these days.

The Vaal Rhebok hunt will go down as one of the most unusual and memorable hunts I’ve ever been on. Standing at 7,000 feet altitude in South Africa with 100-mile views to the south, 50-mile views to the north, and wildlife I’d never seen before has a way of resetting perspective and embedding gratitude deep in our hearts.

South Africa is an epic place and my Vaal Rhebok will always be a special trophy. Join us on our hunt as we relive Africa 2017…

Did you enjoy Derrick’s story/video and would like to read more on Horizon Firearms adventures to Africa? Then here’s a few more you’ll enjoy..

Hunting in Africa – Klipspringer  /  Hunting in Africa – Cape Bushbuck   /  Hunting in Africa – Caracal Cat  /  Hunting in Africa – Nyala  /  Hunting in Africa – Kudu  /  Hunting in Africa – Eland  /  Hunting in Africa – Black Wildebeest  /  Hunting in Africa – Epic

If you’re interested in joining the Horizon Firearms crew to Africa during 2018 then join us for Africa night, Friday, 12 January 2018. We’ll be at their shop in College Station, TX, sharing further info and details on the hunt. Be a part of the story on their next great adventure to Africa.

For more information and current updates about John X Safaris; follow us on Twitter, connect with us on Facebook, subscribe to our YouTube Channel and visit our Website.

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As one meanders through the maze that is an outdoor show today, and one researches the internet or the various social media platforms looking at the variety of options available to the hunter, you could be forgiven for feeling slightly overwhelmed. Let’s face it, the risk vs reward on what you spend and what you get for your precious time away from your “real world” and your hard-earned dollars play a major role in the decisions you make. You want the very best experience that you can afford, yet you’d like to feel the reward at a level much higher than what money can truly buy.

Why Africa?

The options are plentiful. From the vastness of Alaska to the breath-taking beauty of New Zealand, or the endless birds of South America. The hills of Old Mexico, or the plains of the mid-west to the outback of Australia or the forests of Europe. There is an array of destinations entwined in a lifestyle that reeks of adventure as one plans one trip after another. There is a bug that bites the traveling hunter, one that knows no cure, with Africa biting the worst of all.

It is the dark continent… the original destination of adventurers and explorers. A place of rich culture, abundant wildlife, unimaginable landscapes and bright orange sunsets. A place where the hunter can marvel in the opportunities of a bygone era and become a part of something impossible to describe. It’s a deeper understanding, yet a greater mystery at why Africa remains the ultimate hunt of all.

Why John X Safaris and not the Competition?

After 35 years we’ve come to know a thing or two about safaris, in particular YOUR hunt. We’re not merely talking the talk without walking the walk. We’ve spent two generations perfecting the balance between results and experiences.

We’ve taken the cream of the industry and combined them into a team that is envy of the competition. We challenged ourselves to think bigger, hunt smarter and conserve greater. We took 1 million acres and said it wasn’t enough to take us where we want to go with your safari. We extended ourselves to take on more land than what we envisaged, to ensure we not only met your expectations, but exceeded them.

We’ve invested, established and sustainably covered the entire East Cape, SA. From the coastal forests along the Indian Ocean, to the unsurpassed beauty of the Great Karoo, and the breath-taking mountains of the north. It’s a diverse combination of landscapes, vegetation and wildlife, together making for a unique destination for the safari enthusiast to Africa.

We’ve got a lot to offer….

We’re an outfit that welcomes all hunters, no matter what your age, physical condition or hunting capabilities. We offer both plains and dangerous game in large fenced or free range areas. Our lodging is second to none, giving you or your group the choice of three different lodges/areas in the East Cape. This allows us to offer the game in their natural environment where they are naturally of better quality.

We cater to the traditional hunter, the bow enthusiast or the long-range addict. We do so under fair-chase principles, ensuring both you and us are proud of how we conduct ourselves as passionate hunters.

We want you to bring along the family, welcoming observers and prioritizing their experiences as much as we do yours. We enjoy sharing your hunt with you and we get excited about your better half or the youngsters taking up this past time we hold so dear.

We’re quite capable of filling the salt pit to your requirements, but we prefer the quality of your hunted game to be our trademark and the given, while the experiences created far outweigh that of the shots fired. It’s not about today, it’s about tomorrow and the sustainability of our wildlife for future generations.

So what should I hunt?

You’re a beginner, start with plains game on our Single or Multi Area Hunts – Make the most of our traditional 7/10 Day Hunts in the East Cape. Our hunts are offered at a daily rate basis, allowing you to tailor-make your very own safari as per your specie choices or preferences.

Why not bring the kids along? We’re passionate about the next generation of hunters. In fact, we’re so passionate we’ve taken it upon ourselves to match your investment in their hunt, ultimately our hunting future, by matching the cost of getting them to Africa. We figured if you were willing to buy the flight we’d be happy to sponsor the day fee with our Get the Youth Hunting Initiative – Bring your son/daughter/any minor along on their spring/summer break and we’ll comp his/her day fee. Only pay for trophies.

You’ve hunted plains game and you’re ready for the Big 5. There’s no better place to start than Cape Buffalo from our main base Woodlands Safari Estate. Arguably the best Buffalo hunting in the EC, the area comprises of 30 000 acres of hunting territory. Our package comes in at $15000 (All Inclusive + 1 Trophy Cape Buffalo) for either 7 or 10 days of hunting, your choice. Feel free to add or subtract any extra game as you wish.

So you enjoyed the plains game to begin with, you loved your Cape Buffalo hunt, so what’s next? Could there possibly be anything more to hunt in the East Cape? Most certainly! You haven’t started with the Tiny 10 have you? We’re the team hunters turn to when it comes to their Tiny 10 collections. From Oribi to the elusive Blue Duiker and everything in between.

Then there’s the mountains. It’s addictive and we live for Mountain Hunts in Africa – You’re an altitude hunting enthusiast? Then we’ve got the hunt for you in Africa. Vaal Rhebuck, Klipspringer and Mnt Reedbuck. There’s no one with more experience and larger/better areas when it comes to hunting the high country in Africa. Our track record speaks for itself.

You’re three or four hunts in with John X Safaris so where to next? You’ve built up a friendship through experiences with your PH that speaks louder than words, you’re not ready to just say goodbye to your family in Africa. Why not join us on one of our Out of Country Hunts? We’ve got the contacts and the know-how, it’s taken us more than thirty years, but we’ve got the areas and the game you’re after. Best of all your best friend, and African PH, will be going along to ensure you achieve the results you’ve become accustomed to with us over the years. Choose from Cameroon, Ethiopia, Congo, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia or Mozambique.

The Differentiator

We’re not for everyone. We prefer not chasing the numbers, but rather the experiences, in that manner the numbers take care of themselves and the sustainability of our wildlife. We’re not trying to be the biggest, but merely the best. We’re not interested in treating you like a client and your hunt like a business, it’s about you and your passion and the friendships built through camaraderie on safari in Africa. This is who we are.

Want to join us on safari?

We’d like to hear from you on hunting@johnxsafaris.co.za or alternatively call Carl Van Zyl on US Cell +1 682 226 2202 or PH Ross ‘Stix’ Hoole on +1 806 316 6060. We’d gladly assist by dropping you a mail, giving you a call or visiting you in your home state.

For more information and current updates about John X Safaris; follow us on Twitter, connect with us on Facebook, subscribe to our YouTube Channel and visit our Website!

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If only you could see Africa this morning… The rains have come, the drought has broken and the summer has arrived. The world is looking fresher than ever before. The young have started dropping, the first sign that it’s time to reflect on the year that has been.

If we look back at where we were on 18 November 2016 and fast forward the clock to 18 December 2017, then it would be hard to imagine we could have done what we have done without the support of so many of you. We re-located to a new base, an unknown piece of land that looked promising, but held no guarantees.  

Of course we had done our homework on the game, but our first aerial census as to ascertain a scientific quota, threw in a couple of unexpected surprises. For more than twenty years we had invested and spent countless man hours to achieve something like this at Lalibela. Here we were a mere two hours into our first flight at Woodlands…

The natural game numbers were high, in some cases too high, but the presence of Leopard, and the fact that we spotted a large Tom on our maiden flight proved to us how wild Woodlands really was. We found valleys and large tracks of land that had not seen man for many years. We saw great herds and superb trophies. The all-important “Wildlife” box was ticked in a big way.

From the wildlife we turned our attention to the lodging and what infrastructure there was. Roads and natural water sources had to be built or repaired, all during the worst drought in living memory. We were caught in a “catch 22”. There was so much that needed to be done before the first hunters arrived in late April. Without the water there would be no wildlife, and without the lodging there’d be no hunters to sustain the wildlife. We had no choice. 18 Hour days, 7 days a week became the norm.

It took a mammoth effort by a special team to pull it all together. In the end it proved to be worth it….

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From the very first hunters in April to the last in December, the acceptance and excitement around Woodlands Safari Estate, combined with our renowned Karoo concessions, has seen us looking towards the future even more invigorated than before. The experience of 35 years in the safari industry and knowing the commitment it takes to ensure you as individual will enjoy a world-class hunt, was not merely a given, but something we took to heart even more so this season.

You and your lust for adventure on the dark continent afforded Africa’s wildlife the opportunity to be bold. It allowed us to take on new areas and to grow through sustainability. This year you chose South Africa, Cameroon, and Tanzania. You chose to hunt more than 55 species. You chose plains game. You chose big five. You chose to support your passion.

The success and enjoyment derived from being a part of your safari was something we as a team gained much enjoyment from. It’s something we’ve looked back on proudly. This year’s achievements are a celebration of bold new beginnings at John X Safaris, and most importantly, a celebration of each of you and your adventures. Truth be told… Without you none of this would have been possible. Thank you.

May this festive season be a joyous one filled much laughter, love and celebration.

Until your next safari – A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Carl & Family

John X Safaris will be closed for our annual shutdown and will re-open on 2 January 2018. We will not have access to emails daily, but will respond to your messages as soon as possible. See you at the shows!

For more information and current updates about John X Safaris; follow us on Twitter, connect with us on Facebook, subscribe to our YouTube Channel and visit our Website.

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We first met Sam Cunningham at the Dallas Safari Club Convention during January of 2014. Sam booked to join the Gunwerks crew on a hunt to John X Safaris that summer, where we got to know the man a bit better. Since then we have hosted Sam on four safaris spread across three different countries, coming away with a host of experiences and a bag of trophies ranging from plains game to big five.

Sam’s Zambian Leopard from 2016 being a certain highlight for both Sam and Stix.

What initially started as a client / PH relationship soon budded into an epic friendship between Sam and Stix, making for a formidable team out in the field. This year we welcomed Sam back to the East Cape, together with his wife, Tracey, and friends, the Smith’s.

For Tracey it would be her first trip to Africa…. and for that matter her very first hunt. She not only proved to be an excellent shot, but a really fun addition to have along on safari. When not behind the scope hunting personally, she turned out to be a trooper in supporting Sam as he came on a quest to continue his Tiny 10 collection, as well as going after the biggest too.

Sam’s Blue Duiker hunted from a blind, and his Oribi pursued along the dunes of the Indian Ocean, were great additions to his ever-growing pygmy antelope collection. It seems he has truly taken a liking to these elusive critters with plans for more in the future.

While up in the Karoo he completed his Springbuck slam from his previous East Cape safari, hunting a fantastic Copper Springbuck with our buddy Niel.

With the tiniest of the tiny in the salt the guys turned their attention to the largest plains game specie of all, the Cape Eland. With the acquisition of Woodlands at the end of 2016, unbeknown to us we had bought into an unbelievable gene pool of Cape Eland, with the population exceeding 150 animals on the greater property. This allowed us the opportunity to harvest a quota of six bulls for the season, with our ever conservative quota approach opting for no more than three bulls for the year.

Having looked at more than forty different bulls over the course of the hunt, with many world-class bulls being turned down, they finally settled on this monster. His dewlap hung at belly height, while his mop on the forehead gave away his age at over ten years. But what was the most amazing of all was his horns that boasted both length and shape. A rare combination for old Eland.

Joining Sam and Tracey were fellow Texans, the Smith’s, out on their first African safari.

Aubrey and Robin, together with their son, Tyler Smith.

For the Smith’s it would be a hunt of the ages. They joined professional Hunter, Carl van Zyl, tracker, Oluwhetu, and Jack Russel Terrier, Bongo. Pursuing a number of plains game species including; Wildebeest, Sable, Kudu, Zebra, Gemsbuck, Eland, Nyala, Waterbuck, Reedbuck, Lechwe, and a host of others, making for an exhilarating first experience on the Dark Continent.

GTS Productions videographer, Ozzy, proved to be a great addition to the safari, not only capturing the entire hunt on film, but enhancing Aubrey’s experience through their common interest and passion in photography.

All in all we enjoyed a great week together, with the smiles and many trophy pictures, the result of hard yards under challenging wind conditions. The Gunwerks system once again came out on top, giving both the Cunningham’s and Smith’s, reason to smile not only about the quality of their game, but even more so the rewards of great shots.

For more information and current updates about John X Safaris; follow us on Twitter, connect with us on Facebook, subscribe to our YouTube Channel and visit our Website

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As what has become something of a tradition over the past five years, we welcomed back Aaron Davidson and a number of Gunwerks customers during early June.

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Mike Kaelin and Murphy McHugh teamed up with PH, Greg Hayes, with the Enlow’s joining, Ross “Stix” Hoole. Maurice Nasr from Australia joined Michael LaBazzo forming a formidable team with PH, Martin Neuper. As per usual Aaron teamed up with PH, Carl van Zyl, but this time around we had our old hunting partner, Garrett Wall, back again after having missed our 2016 hunt.

From that first afternoon on the range the entire group made the most of not only the hunting, but the day-to-day experiences with their Gunwerks rifles. It has been said that a day in Africa with your long-range rifle acutes to a year anywhere else around the world. One just doesn’t get that amount of setups, glassing  vistas, and shooting platforms to gain invaluable experience. Combine these attributes with the fact that opportunities are unlimited, allowing the hunters to make the right decisions on what game to pursue in order to make an ethical kill, or to pass – it makes for an experience second to none.

Having checked all the rifles on the range, happy with the way they had traveled, we decided to introduce the guys to Woodlands Safari Estate. For myself personally it was an opportunity to share our new base with Aaron and Garrett. I wanted to climb the escarpment, to a certain viewpoint that provides a view of the greater property.What unfolded in a matter of mere minutes before sundown set us, and the entire group, up for a great eight days of hunting.

It was the kind of start that dreams are made of…

The crew from Got The Shot Productions have selected a few of the highlights to share with all you fellow long-range enthusiasts. Enjoy the action – it was non-stop!

Another memorable safari it turned out to be with new friends joining the Gunwerks and John X families.  So many great days were shared out in the field, with the common denominator being the smiles on the guys faces giving a good account of how much they enjoyed themselves.

We’ll be doing it again next year! Join the Gunwerks crew to Africa, the first date is already sold out and there’s only a last few remaining slots left in our second group for 2018.

For more information and current updates about John X Safaris; follow us on Twitter, connect with us on Facebook, subscribe to our YouTube Channel and visit our Website.

 

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Having started our season up in Cameroon during mid-February, we finally got going down south in the latter half of April. While it was somewhat later than usual, the building and renovating of our new camp at Woodlands had been our focus and priority up until that point.

The original colonial homestead on the property was first completed in 1898 with various building additions taking place over the past 119 years. We started by stripping most of the original buildings additions and then added an additional seven suites of our own in the same style as to keep with tradition of the era and of a colonial grandeur of yesteryear. Meticulous care and focus was dedicated to the original homestead as to restore and preserve every room to its original form. Where windows or fixtures were replaced with more modern materials and styles over the past century, we went back and replaced each of those with fittings from the original era, ensuring the manor rose from its neglected state, restored to its once grand past.

We present The Manor at Woodlands Safari Estate….

Further additions are taking place at the moment with a trophy room and bar being the main focus at present. Out buildings such as a skinning shed, butcher shop, salt shed, workshop and tool room have been completed too, ensuring our safaris are running at optimum levels.

With The Manors completion we were ready to start our season, and it was fitting that our old friend Brett Kettelhut would be our first ever hunter to Woodlands. Brett teamed up with Professional Hunter, Greg Hayes, and tracker, Bless, for a second time. This time the safari started in the north.

Brett harvested some fantastic trophies up in the Great Karoo before heading down south to Woodlands. With a Sable and Lechwe being his priorities, the guys put in some serious effort to see Woodlands off to a flying start. The results of both the Lechwe and Sable were pretty mind-blowing.

First a Lechwe in the 28″ + class..

And then a Sable that will rank as one of Brett’s best trophies to date.

A monstrous bull in the 44″ class – Not your everyday kind of bull.

At the same time as Brett we welcomed first timers, Steve and Kathy Winkleman, who hunted with Professional Hunter, Ross “Stix” Hoole, and Thandu Xolo. Neither Steve or Kathy had ever been to Africa, with each having their personal priorities on this maiden African safari.

For Steve it would be a Kudu and the desire to see as much country side as possible. To take in the sights and sounds that make Africa the place it is. Luckily for them the rains had just started and Africa came out to bloom…

As for Kathy, she came hunting for the perfect tree, as to capture that perfect African sunset.

One could say she found the best trophy of all…

As for Professional Hunter, Carl van Zyl, the dream of Woodlands and the prospect of guiding a first ever hunter on the Estate was an exciting one to say the least. It would be fitting that he should host, South African Cricket legend, Quinton De Kock, on what would be the first of many to come.

Quinton brought along his bow going after any opportunity that may present itself. Our plan was to walk and stalk each morning, and then head into the blinds from midday. We got lucky on a great Blue Wildebeest stalked to within 31 yards and a sneaky Mountain Reedbuck at 46 yards. It was intense and exciting getting in that close to numerous species. From the hides Quinton took a Waterbuck and Warthog too, making for a succesful five days of bow hunting.

A Bushpig was a high priority on his hunt, but unfortunately the pigs only started feeding some days after he left.

We’ll have to plan a return hunt for a big old boar with the bow in the future.

During the course of the hunt Carl had shared his passion for his Gunwerks 7 mm LRM, and then right at the end of the hunt they headed out on the last afternoon to give Quiny a taste of some epic long-range shooting. It took a mere twenty minutes on the range for Quinton to get up to speed with the system, proving to be a natural not only with the bow, but behind a rifle too.

We headed up to the plains at Woodlands to enjoy a last bit of fun…

At 578 Yards Quiny put the hammer down on this beauty. His first shot with the Gunwerks system – his first long-range kill.

The start to our season has been another succesful one. The Karoo keeps on producing the goods year in and year out, with the rewards of a strict management policy coming through in trophy quality. Woodlands still remains an unknown, it’s a mystical 30 000 acres with numerous new hunting concessions in the area too. If I were a betting man I’d be confident in saying prepare to be amazed. The valleys and draws along the Great Fish River play home to an abundance of wildlife. From what we’ve been spotting while out on safari, tells us that if you’re hunting with John X Safaris during 2017, you’re going to be in for opportunities on some monsters. They’re out there!

For more information and current updates about John X Safaris; follow us on Twitter, connect with us on Facebook, subscribe to our YouTube Channel and visit our Website.

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