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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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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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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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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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