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Posts Tagged ‘Coastal Forests’

“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.

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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Part 3 Chris’ Story – Journey of a safari addict writing a new chapter

This is the last of the series of blogs by the “Three Amigos”.  It is my story about my journey on my safaris, about friendship and returning to Africa to write a much-needed new chapter of my journey in life.  And oh yes, it is about an amazing buffalo hunt.

The journey of friendship …

I met an incredible young man in 2007.  He was our PH on our first safari.  At the “tender” age of 24, he had already taken over the mantle of running the family’s safari business.  I had children older than Carl van Zyl, and I couldn’t fathom any of them taking over and running a business as complex as John X Safaris.  One thing for sure, his passion was both boundless and infectious.

They say that once you are bitten by the “safari bug” you can’t help but being drawn back to Africa.   Carl was the major reason we came back the very next year to celebrate our 35th Wedding Anniversary on safari in 2008.   From teaching my wife to shoot and hunt, to arranging fantastic photographic game drives for me, Carl was the consummate host in personalizing our experiences over the years.   Simply put, we were not “clients”, we became members of the Van Zyl family.

Carl and I sharing our Kudu experience in 2007. Notice that in 2007 we were both much younger and Carl’s old Jack Russel, Jack, was very much on the scene still!

Despite 30+ years difference in age, Carl and I bonded as friends who could talk about anything, including business.  Very few young people in their 20s will listen to an “old guy” about branding and marketing.   But Carl was different.   He was open, hungry and enthusiastic.   Over the next decade, we worked together on web sites, social media, safari books, and everything imaginable to build the John X brand.

From the very beginning, Carl had an uncanny instinct about what he wanted to create.  He often quoted the statistics about the thousands of outfitters competing for “clients”.  Carl wanted more than clients.  Carl’s passion was making John X different by focusing on the total experience.   Yes clients talk about their hunts, but the passionate remember the experience of being on safari and what they felt.  For Carl, John X would become all about how you felt about your “experience”.

You always remember the experiences and what you felt around the campfire … especially when you’re dancing with best friends and Craig Boddington’s family!

My return a decade later to see “vision come to life”

John X Safaris has been led by Carl for the past decade, but when the family bought their new base “Woodlands Safari Estate” at the end of 2016, Carl simply declared that I had to come back to see the latest developments.   He wanted me to experience what had been built over the last decade, and his vision of where it will go in the next decade.   How could I refuse a friend and family?

Needing to write a new chapter

After 35 years in my business, I grew stale.   Simply put I was not having any fun anymore.  I was dreading some of the upcoming life changes related to my retirement and closing down my business.  One of my daughters sent me a motivational quote …

My daughter was right.  I hadn’t written any new chapters in quite a while.  Nothing like getting off the grid to do some “editing of life’s perspective” in Africa.   With Carl’s compelling offer of a “life changing experience”, 2018 became the perfect time for a safari.   I followed my daughter’s advice and decided I needed to write a new chapter. What better way to do it than to celebrate your 66th birthday in Africa on safari!

Fulfilling the ultimate challenge as a hunter

For me and my wife, 2008 was a banner safari year for some amazing plains game trophies.  In typical fashion, I said that we were “done”, and that I was now going to focus on photography.

At one of those amazing campfire experiences on the 2008 safari Carl simply said:  “My friend you are never done with Africa … you have not yet experienced all she has to offer.  You must experience the “Tiny Ten”!  And, you haven’t lived until you have faced “Black Death” on his turf – I will make sure that you will come back for cape buffalo!”

Carl was right.  I had become a safari addict, and I did come back with family and friends.  Along the way I managed to collect a magnificent eland, klippy and even the elusive blue duiker.  Over the course of those hunts our friendship grew deeper.

Carl even acquiesced and participated in some of my passions for photography.  In the spirit of creating the ultimate personalized photo experience, Carl personally drove me on a road trip of 13+ hours to the Kalahari to photograph the famous black mane lions of the desert.

Nothing matches the photographic experience of capturing a pair of mating lions in the Kalahari Desert.

When 2018 rolled around, Carl said that photography was all well and good, but that I needed to get my passion back for a real hunting experience.   And since I had been talking about “new chapters”, he knew the perfect way to do that – cape buffalo hunting at Woodlands.

There is hunting … and then there is cape buffalo hunting.

The safari of 2018 was a decade of planning with Carl, but it was actually 6 decades in the making.   I started bird hunting with my father at age 6.   There is something about growing up in the outdoors with family that is difficult to explain.   It is the culmination of all those experiences that form an incredible bond, and adrenalin rush to be in the field.  Carl knew me all too well and said that I needed to get that passion back.

However, he also prepared me for hunting buffalo.   He stared in my eyes and said …

“Chris, you must understand that hunting cape buffalo is serious stuff.  You must be fully dedicated and focused.  It is nothing like hunting kudu.  When hunting buffalo, you will see me and the other PHs go into “another zone”.   Buffalo are called “black death” for a reason, and we will be hunting them in the bush at maybe 20 to 50 yards.  I am passionate to take you, but you must take this experience very seriously.”

I don’t think that anyone is quite prepared for what it feels like up close with a dugga boy on his turf!

Ok!  Carl had my full attention.   He spent serious time with me on the range with the 375 H&H I was to use.  And I was dead serious about practicing what I needed to do. To say that it was a different hunt from the get-go would be an understatement.

I only had three requests of Carl:

  1. I did not want to just shoot a buffalo, I wanted to really hunt him on his turf.
  2. I just wanted a real experience; I did not measure it by taking a trophy.
  3. I did not come to Africa to die hunting buffalo.

I was certainly going to test John X Safaris moto of “catering to hunters of all ages and abilities”.  Due to recent health issues, I’m not the nimblest of foot.   Carl does not control where to find the buffalo, and they were in the deepest cover.  But he was incredibly patient in helping make the stalks possible for me through some difficult terrain.

Day 1 – The Buffalo Encounter

Many of the hunting shows depict hunts across vast plains and savannah.   Woodlands is entirely different. It is comprised of steep hills and ravines filled with brush.  And the herds stay in the dense stuff.  It took the better part of the first day just to find any buffalo.  I’m told that many buffalo hunts in this area can require a minimum of 5 days or more to even have an opportunity.

On the first day we finally found buffalo in the afternoon.  Carl was very patient and after a couple of hours stalking we were in a position above the herd about 110 yards away.  The big bull was bedded down and all we had to do was wait for him to get up when the herd moved.   After sitting in position for about 20 minutes a kudu cow rocketed out below us as the wind shifted slightly, busting past the herd.   Busted … buffalo flew everywhere.

In retrospect, I’m actually glad it happened that way.  It is classic to have something bust a herd.   And somehow it would not have been quite the same intense experience of being over 100 yards away sitting on a ledge above them.  Exciting, but not up close and personal as I had imagined.

Day 2 – Buffalo up close and very personal!

So you would think it would be easy to come back the next day and find the buffalo… NOT!   It took even longer the next day to find a herd, and it was probably a different one.   The stalk was even longer.   Carl finally whispered to me sternly:  “Stay focused – we are literally going to be in the herd!”

When Carl said “close” I don’t think even he realized how close.  We could see different parts of buffalo through brush, no idea of telling how many.  You could literally smell them!   So in all of this mass confusion Carl had to determine if there was a shooter bull.

I don’t think either of us was prepared for what happened next.  A young bull came out walking right toward us … stopping maybe 7 yards away staring at us!   My heart definitely felt the pressure.  Somehow Carl had the presence of mind to get the young bull to turn before he smelled us.

I don’t know how but he got us in position and me up on sticks. There was an opening of maybe 3 yards for a shot.  Carl literally had to make the call in less than two seconds and I then had to make the shot.   It was literally all a blur in slow motion … I managed to get a shot off before he disappeared.  When that shot went off, buffalo literally flew out of the canyon everywhere!

Day 3 – Discretion is the better part of valor, and the power of teamwork

Despite my best efforts, the first shot was not where it needed to be … a bit too far back.  Carl got us in the position for a second shot, but it was through some brush.  Dust flew and it looked like he fell, but made it to a ravine.   Carl made the right call:  “It’s growing dark, he is dark black … and night is not the time to pursue him on his turf”.

While the adrenaline rush was incredible, the agony soon set in.  How could I have missed the perfect shot at 25 yards?  Will we ever find him?   It is doubtful if I slept more than a couple of hours that night, and by morning light rain was falling on the roof of the lodge.   So I was sure that all sign would be gone and the buffalo would be lost.

Carl assembled his best team the next morning, and everyone had their game face on.  It has been mentioned many times, but to experience what trackers can do is amazing!  They found the tracks where the buffalo had stumbled and followed him through all the other tracks of the herd.   He actually hadn’t gone more than a couple hundred yards.

And then there was Bongo, Carl’s amazing Jack Russel.  I have grown up with Bongo on safari over the years, first his dad, Jack, and now him.  Despite his age now, he charged the buffalo and had him at bay in short order.   It was such a relief made possible by an incredible team.  Until that buffalo is down, there is no calm, even for an experienced PH…

Epilogue – The Power of feeling alive and writing new chapters

I could write more about my final hunt at John X Safaris.  But suffice it to say that Carl arranged a very special hunt after the buffalo for a majestic sable.  Just he and I together, alone like many hunts before.  It was that special touch of a unique experience that would complete the bond we have built over a decade.

A Sable for the ages..

I would rather use the remaining space to share some highlights of how truly special the John X team is at creating an experience beyond expectation.   Carl’s sister Lee runs a truly high class lodge, and she arranged a surprise birthday celebration that was most appreciated!

Special thanks to Lee for a special birthday on safari, and all that you did to make our safari a 5 Star Experience!

The John X PHs are the consummate professional with incredible hunting talents.  They also become your friends for life!   Stix (aka Ross Hoole) found out it was my birthday and brought his bagpipes to my birthday party, complete with full Scottish kilt.  I cannot begin to describe the feeling of hearing Stix play the magnificent Scottish ballads on the pipes around the campfire!

Thank you Stix! Who else has a bagpipe serenade on their 66th birthday from an amazing PH in full Scottish regalia!

And then there are the Lombards!   We had never met them before arriving to hunt in their magnificent mountain camp.  Louwrence was the consummate host.  His wife Jeanette literally drove untold hours on mountain roads in order to have a bottle of champagne and flutes available to toast a birthday of a stranger they had never met!  I will never forget these new friends and how I felt being toasted on my birthday at their campfire in the mountains.

Mission Accomplished – New chapter written and editing life my story as we speak

There are many reasons to go on safari, and hunting is certainly one of them.  Carl has a vision of creating an unmatched safari that you “feel” when you experience it.  He has already achieved his John X mission of creating a safari experience which is unmatched.  I can’t imagine what he will achieve in the next decade.

And then a toast to The Three Amigos on Safari – We had an adventure filled with memories that will not be forgotten!

I have completely written a new chapter in my life, with an indelible experience with my best buddies.  As I was leaving camp I thanked Carl for my “last great safari”.   He simply said:  “Don’t be so sure my friend … there are new chapters to be written and edited.”   Based upon my last decade with Carl, I would bet that he is probably right … my last chapter on safari has not yet been written.   Thank you my friend for everything!

Trust the next chapter, because I know the author!

Chris, Admitted safari addict with a whole new chapter on the journey of life

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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Part 2 Randy’s Story – The great lechwe and unexpected adventures

This is the second in the series by The Three Amigos.  As organizer of the great buffalo adventure, I started by recruiting Randy.  I met Randy by virtue of his marriage to Cherie, who is my wife’s niece.  Randy uses the term that we are “Family” – Great friends who happen to be family.  Over the past decade we have grown to be best of friends and hunting buddies.

After years of John X stories, we finally convinced Randy and Cherie to join us on their first safari in 2011.  They were hooked after that, with memories of epic hunts for kudu and gemsbok.  Their first experiences called them back to Africa a few years later for more hunting, incredible photographic experiences, and the very special camaraderie found at sundowners and around the safari campfires.

Nothing like learning to play African drums around a safari campfire! At the end of the day it is the perfect place to share stories of hunts and all that has been experienced during the day.

When I finally decided to fulfill my decade long dream of hunting a buffalo with Carl at John X Safaris, Randy was all in, especially for a “guy’s adventure”.   He immediately went to work on selling Mike to be the third member of Three Amigos on Safari.  Here’s Randy’s story of his adventures and of why John X Safaris keeps pulling you back to Africa.

Randy’s Story – A monster lechwe, and unforeseen opportunities

Going on safari with John X Safaris is always special, but what made my 3rd safari even more memorable was that I got to experience it with my two best friends, Mike and Chris.  When Chris started talking about a buffalo hunt in our safari room sessions, I was definitely all in on what would become a safari of a lifetime.

Chris, the main instigator of the Three Amigos, created a WhatsApp group prior to our departure from the US, so that we could share the entire experience with friends and family back in Nebraska.  It completely changed our safari experience.  It was as if everyone back home were right there with us, including the celebrations after the sun set on some amazing hunts.

The Three Amigos toasting one of the many great hunts was just one of the many photos shared with family and friends back home on our WhatsApp group. The family really enjoyed “almost being there” through the photos and daily updates.

Everyone back home was amazed at the quality of the trophies that the Three Amigos “put in the salt “.  We shared pictures of our hunts – beginning with Chris’s cape buffalo, and ending with the most beautiful sundowner that you could possibly imagine.  In between, Mike was able to take a brute of a warthog, a fantastic kudu, an unbelievable bushbuck, and finished with a magnificent gemsbok taken with an impressive 450 yard shot.  Needless to say, I have a few adventures of my own to share.

The new lodge at the Woodlands Safari Estate is truly 5 Star in every respect … especially the food and superb service!

Everyone back home was anxious to see pictures of Woodlands, Carl’s new camp. Having been with John X Safaris twice before I didn’t know what to expect with Carl’s new place, but I can honestly tell you that it didn’t disappoint.  In fact, I liked it even better than before.  The intimacy of the camp, the quality of the accommodations and the food made us feel like we were at a five-star resort.  Lee and her staff did an incredible job to make everyone feel welcome. (Just be careful when you have a drink in the bar as you may start singing and dancing into the wee hours of the morning!)

Dream mountain hunts – a huge red lechwe & fallow deer stag in the rut

Everyone goes to Africa with a wish list of what they want to hunt most.  I managed to check one off the list and harvest a nice warthog along the Great Fish River.  However, at the top of my list was a red lechwe.   We had spent some days at Woodlands hunting in and around the region while Chris hunted for buffalo, before we headed north to a new area Carl recently signed up. My PH for this leg of our trip would be Louwrence, who personally guided me on his magnificent property in the mountains.  Even more special were the hours spent stalking with him while learning about the proud history of the land and the vision Louwrence and Carl had for this area in the future.

I was “over the moon” being able to harvest a spectacular lechwe with Louwrence.

Having enjoyed every moment of my lechwe hunt I soon turned my attention to my second priority, a fallow deer.  What made this hunt uniquely different from every other experience in Africa, was being able to hunt in the rut and hearing the stags literally “roar” around you as the valleys echoed in chorus.  In fact, if it had not been for the sounds of the stags in the rut, we probably would not have been able to find my stag.  It’s was an amazing experience being able hunt all alone with Louwrence who not only guides, but explains everything happening along the way.

A fallow deer is an underrated trophy often overlooked in Africa … it is an amazing hunt when stags are in full rut.

Always be open to unforeseen opportunities!

By my third safari with John X I have learned two key principles.  First, always trust your PH!  They are literally out there every day and know what makes a great trophy and a great hunt.  Second, be open to unforeseen opportunities that are not expected.   When Carl spotted a mountain reedbuck that he deemed a real trophy, it was time to take advantage of the unexpected and hunt a unique mountain species not originally on my priority list.

An unforeseen opportunity resulted in a mountain reedbuck, a great trophy that should not be overlooked.

I was fortunate to have hunted with Carl as my PH for my first African trophy, a magnificent kudu.  In subsequent hunts, I’ve been with the other great PHs from John X Safaris.  All of them are the consummate professionals, and it was great to experience their knowledge and skills on the various hunts that were all very different.

What was really unexpected on this safari was the opportunity one morning to go on a hunt with Carl for a nyala.   While I had considered a nyala, I didn’t think I would have an opportunity to hunt with Carl for one in his “own backyard” at Woodlands.  So I jumped at the chance. 

A chess match with a magnificent nyala….

My nyala hunt with Carl began a little later than normal, which was a welcome change for this weary hunter.  Most days started with a 5:30 wake-up, breakfast at 6:00 and out the door by 6:30am.  However, on this day I was able to sleep in as Carl indicated the day before that he wanted full sunlight before we would begin glassing for Nyala.

Having spotted a group of Nyala from a distant ridge we made our way in the general direction of where we felt the Nyala may be heading. There were a series of waterholes along a river creek that were dammed up after the rain and with every yard closer our vantage and view grew smaller as the brush started towering out above us. Carl selected one of the taller trees in our vicinity and climbed it to get the best possible vantage to re-locate the group of Nyala that were spotted earlier.  After what seemed like an eternity Carl spotted what he described as a magnificent Nyala, and so the chess match was on!

We slowly stalked in the direction that the Nyala was moving towards only to realize after several minutes that he had circled back and gone the other way.  I didn’t know it then, but I would soon realize how lucky I was to get some extra rest that morning.

The next four hours was like a chess match.  We would move one way and he would counter our move and go in the opposite direction. To say that the hunt was a challenge would be an understatement. Back and forth through the brush to get set-up only to find that this Nyala was playing a different game than us.

As the stalk continued Carl looked at me and said I have a gut feeling and we need to move……right now!  Back again through the brush we went.  As we slowly approached the embankment to a small pond, Carl peeked over the edge to see if his gut feeling was telling the truth. 

Like I said before, always trust your PH, and this was no exception.  Carl slowly got the sticks in place and motioned for me to get next to him.  The next few moments were a blur……Nyala spotted…..gun on sticks…..deep breath…..checkmate……the Nyala of a lifetime. What an awesome experience and one that I will never forget!

A nyala of a lifetime taken after a marathon chess match of spot and stalk through the bush.

Unforeseen and even more fortunate was that Ozzy from Got the Shot Productions was able to go along and capture this amazing hunt on video.   I have not yet seen any of the video footage, but hopefully he captured some of the incredible action I’ve described.  I am literally waiting for my story to get published so that I can see the video and relive the thrill of the chase!

Special thanks to Carl for my fantastic hunt, and coordinating everything for the Three Amigos.   Lee and staff deserve special recognition for providing five star meals and accommodations.   To Louwrence we can’t thank you enough for our incredible mountain adventures!  A special thanks to Clayton, our Woodlands PH that spent hours with Mike and me on various hunts that were both memorable and exhausting at the same time.

It’s not all hunting … sometimes it is just kicking back and relishing all the safari moments with your Jack Russel!

And last but not least, a special shout out to the “Wizard of Ahs”, videographer Ozzy, who captured my nyala hunt on video.  No one knows how a guy carrying all that gear through the bush manages to be just in the right place every time, without ever disrupting the hunt.

Nothing beats a final sundowner to celebrate another adventure … the sundowner smiles say it all … Thanks John X!

John X, we will never forget everyone who made our safari so special.  You made the Adventures of The Three Amigos on Safari the best ever!  I’m already ordering a stock pile of the finest port for our safari rooms … there will many toasts to the unforgettable experiences at John X!

Forever a safari addict, Randy

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 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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When the matriarch of a family speaks, you listen. This was the case when Aunt Karen Nelsen approached me on the morning of April 7’th. She’s a grand lady, an old school woman with a certain class of style and grace about her that reminds me of my grandmother. Like each morning before, I headed down the verandah at Woodlands Safari Estate where she met me in mid-stride; “Carl.. On a scale of 1 to 100, this was a 1000.” And that’s all she needed to say.

It had been a marathon safari for the Nelsen’s starting with a tour down the Garden Route, between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, before embarking on a short hunt from our southern base. The goal was to afford each family member, no matter how young or old the individual, the opportunity to experience something he or she wanted to experience on tour, and then have each hunt their first big game animal in Africa.

The Nelsen’s are no ordinary people. They’re a dynamic family led by Uncle Kevin, Jason and Phil. Aunt Karen, together with Tracey and Paige are the glue of this unit, and the kids are the true characters. Join them on their fun-filled 8 days at John X Safaris.

Could there be a better family vacation?

 

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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When the fist rains hit during late September last year and continued throughout the summer and into the new year, a true sense of optimism began brewing as the start of our season drew ever closer.

By the time early March arrived the East Cape was in full bloom to welcome Kevin Fain, his son Hunter, and Tim Rainwater with his sons, Connor and Austin.

Kevin had hunted with us previously many years ago, but this time round the focus was on Hunter. Like many first timers, Hunter was focused on plains game, with no specific preferences, hunting hard and taking what Africa gave him. Needless to say he enjoyed tremendous success on a superb bag of animals.

Kevin on the other hand wasn’t going to pass up on the opportunity of a lifetime when a huge Sable stepped out late one afternoon.

A well placed shot after a long stalk dropped the old brute in his tracks. And what a beauty he turned out to be.

While the Fain’s were hard at it, the Rainwater’s weren’t being left behind for one minute. As first timers to Africa their interests varied tremendously between the three of them making for an extraordinary safari in variety of both species and hunting terrain.

Tim and Austin were interested in the traditional big hitters, namely Kudu, Gemsbuck, Impala, Zebra and Wildebeest, which they dually achieved great success on.

Of course there were the usual unexpected ones, such as the ever impressive Nyala, and the crazy experiences along the way that makes the safari a memorable one. Don’t ask us…. Ask Austin about his exciting Kudu hunt.

But there was one particular hunt that blew us away, and that was Tim’s massive Cape Eland. It is very seldom that one finds an Eland bull in this class. The rare combination of color, dewlap, mop and horns, makes him the standout trophy of the trip for many of us. An incredible animal to say the least.

With Tim and Austin spending most of their time on the traditional species, it was Connor who surprised us most. Here was a youngster on his first safari to the dark continent… you’d expect him to be interested in Kudu? Right? Wrong! Not this young man. Instead he could tell you all about the biggest and the smallest, with an addiction for the Tiny 10.

We’d be driving along from one type of habitat to the next during the course of the safari and without ever discussing it he’d confidently share his knowledge on why that particular terrain or habitat would be an ideal spot to search for a particular specie. It was incredible seeing his passion for Africa. Something we had not witnessed in over 35 years of guiding.

So it was only fitting that he started off his African hunting career with a beautiful old Giraffe bull.

And from the biggest he went to the smallest. Hunting his first two species in his Tiny 10 collection. Both his Steenbuck and Common Duiker reached the magical 5” mark. No small feat on such small critters.

With that the safari was slowly but surely coming to an end. Everyone had just about achieved what they were wanting to when the second last evening rolled along. It was time for the much-anticipated Springhare hunt the boys were promised when they first booked the safari.

During midday the boys headed off with the trackers and cut their very own hunting sticks and then at nightfall we headed out with a spotlight for an evening of fun and laughter.

The proudest hare hunters in the world! All we can say is how relieved we were that no bones were broken along the way, but the stomach muscles are still the worse for wear after a comical evening watching the boys chase down the springhares on foot.

It proved to be the highlight for these three with the many others captured by the crew from Got The Shot Productions.

There were far too many experiences along the way to mention or have captured them all, but for these two Dad’s it would be about their boys and the privilege of time spent together in Africa. We salute you for quite literally “passing the buck” to the next generation of hunters by affording them this unique opportunity. Neither you or they will forget their first big hunt. After all isn’t that what it’s all about?

Enjoy their safari with them. We couldn’t have asked for a better start…

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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Hello – Salibonani – Hallo – Dumela – Lumela – Xewane – Molweni – I nhlikanhi – Sawubona – Welcome to South Africa.

This country we call home is a vibrant place, it’s filled with the colors of the rainbow, a melting pot from all walks of life and tribe that live with a rhythm hard to describe or find anywhere else on earth. There’s something about getting back that excites the spirit as the cabin door opens and Africa flows back through your airways and into your blood. It is then that you know you’re back, you are back home.

The past six weeks have been a roller coaster of success, with the obvious turn in the US economy playing a major role in not only a revived economy, but a revived people willing and wanting to travel. The daily reception and hospitality enjoyed by our team while abroad continued to speak volumes about the American people and their generosity. Your continued support through hunting will ensure growth and sustainability of our wildlife in Africa. It is a model that is finally enjoying the support and recognition that for so long has been ignored. It seems that while the message has always been there, the importance of hunting on the Dark Continent has finally been proven through sustainable results. Hunters are not merely talking about conservation, they are being conservationists.

Arriving home we have turned our attention to the first hunts for the year, with a mere three week’s to go we’re scouting hard in preparation and anticipation of an exciting season ahead. Some areas are still dry, but the rains are here, and the majority of our hunting areas have been blessed with fantastic summer rains.

The game as always will amaze one, with their ability to recover from hard times the minute the countryside changes from dull and barren to lush and green. There are youngsters everywhere with each family group nurturing their young in their own unique way. Many of the old bulls/rams we feared for during the drought are still around, and amazingly so, in fantastic condition. Our trail cameras have been catching them throughout our areas, giving us great confidence going forward.

Between now and the start of our season be sure to follow our social media platforms as we continue to share more from our trail cameras, giving you plenty to look forward to on safari with us this year.

On behalf of my team I would once again like to thank each and every one of you for your hospitality, friendship and support. Ngiyabonga. Dankie. Re a Leboga. Ke a Leboha Haholo. Ndza Nkhensa. Ndo Livhuwa. Enkosi. Thank you – We could not have done it without you.

It’s time to get out there. We’re ready for your arrival – See you on safari!

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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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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There are very few hunters in this world as lucky as Glynn Underwood. Maybe there’s something to be said about being a nice guy attracting great luck? Or may it be the fact that going more often than most affords you more opportunities than others may experience? It is something we as a team have often discussed, wondering how this man and PH, Greg Hayes, keeps turning everything they touch to gold. They have made a habit of coming out on top time and again, to the point where we have nicknamed Glynn, “Super Hunter”.

They are notorious for being the most comical team around. There’s not a minute that passes that you will not be entertained by these two,  day and night! I mean how do you explain the following to anyone without a sense of humour…

Some years ago, a couple of safaris ago to be precise, Greg and Glynn, had as per usual made the most of the evening around the campfire when they rolled out of camp a half hour after the rest, on the hunt for Cape Bushbuck. By this stage Glynn had hunted two world-class Bushbuck rams on previous hunts with John X Safaris, and now was once again pursuing one of his all-time favourite species. Upon arriving at the hunting area they sat up on some high ground to start glassing. Soon the previous evenings activities came rumbling along to Greg and he excused himself for a bit of “bush relief”. Picture the scene, I know its hard.. but there Greg was admiring the view, when suddenly a shot went off. As hastily and dignified as he could he made his way back to Glynn and tracker Bless.

Well… there they were proud as could be with yet another 15″ Cape Bushbuck.

It’s just the way they role. It’s an infectious camaraderie to be around on safari and a certain highlight for us each year. Glynn is a great believer in taking what Africa gives you. This year Glynn returned once again with his wife, Jane, and son, Woodson, as well as in-laws, Darrel and Paula Koleman.

They took part in a vita-dart, hunted a bunch of amazing plains game and then just smashed it with a Cape Buffalo of magnitude proportion. Join them on the hunt…

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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