Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘John X Blog’

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

An introduction to the Three Amigos on Safari in 2018

As the unofficial “Leader of the Three Amigos”, I will take the liberty of kicking off this series of hunter blogs.  There will be a story from each of the “Three Amigos” in his own words.  Each has a unique tale to tell of their incredible hunts and experiences on safari.

This year completes my 8th safari with John X Safaris.   I’ve been asked many times why would you go on 8 safaris?  I’ve been asked more often why you would go back to the same outfitter on safari in South Africa?

To use a South Africa expression:  “Every safari with John X has been over the moon” and has exceeded all expectations.   More importantly, every experience consisted of completely different hunts, entirely different species in completely different areas, with new friends and family along on each journey.

One of the reasons for my multiple safaris is the great joy of sharing the safari experience with someone who has never been to Africa.   After three years toasting the prospects of chasing a great buffalo, two of my closest friends committed to a hunt with John X Safaris in 2018.  This, the first installment, is a story from the eyes of “Amigo Mike”, on his first ever African safari.

“The only man I envy is the man who has not yet been to Africa – for he has so much to look forward to.” – Richard Mullin

Mike’s Story – An African Safari through the eyes of a “first timer”

Despite seeing the photos and hearing the stories, I’m not sure that you can ever be prepared for Africa.  The land is so vast.  There is so much game with so many species.  And the people are the most incredible hosts I’ve ever met.  Hopefully my story will give you some perspectives and appreciation of the experience from the eyes of a first timer.

 No one can prepare you for the first sights and sounds of Africa….


I met Chris through my lifelong friend Randy.  I started helping Chris take care of his acreage and we quickly became friends.  When we started gathering as couples to share weekend dinners, inevitably the guys would end up in Chris’ safari room.   Over many sessions of toasting his safari exploits with fine port, I continued to hear the incredible stories from Randy and Chris about Africa and their experiences with John X Safaris.

Like most hunters in the heartland of the US, I had always dreamed of seeing Africa.  Like most, I felt that I could never manage to go on a safari to hunt.   But after hearing about the incredible experiences, they seduced me into realizing my dream of going with them, and joining in “The Great Adventures of Three Amigos on Safari”!

I have been on a number of “guy trips” hunting and fishing.  Normally we fly into a very rustic cabin in the woods.  I was totally unprepared for the 5 Star safari camp of John X Safaris home base, Woodlands Safari Estate.   Incredible accommodations and even more amazing food.   I would quickly see why Randy and Chris brought their wives on safari with them.  The experience for the non-hunter/observer is just incredible.

Like most first time dreamers in Africa, my top species were kudu and gemsbok.   Carl assured me that we would get to those in the Great Karoo, as he wanted me to experience the challenge of hunting free range kudu in the high country.  I had no idea what I was in for.

Before hunting kudu, I had the opportunity to hunt plains game at Woodlands.  One specie that intrigued me was the bushbuck, I wanted to hunt bushbuck, the “mini kudu”.   I had no concept of how challenging it would be to find them in the bush.   After multiple days of stalking and belly crawling, my PH Clayton came through with a magnificent bushbuck that we truly earned!  And his 7 month old Jack Russel, aka “Beans”, saved the day by finding the bushbuck as darkness closed in around us.  As an aside, with no city lights you have no idea of how dark it really gets in the African bush!

Thanks to my PH Clayton and his perseverance! I had no idea of how challenging a bushbuck would be.

For a mid-west hunter in the US, you harvest a deer and you are done for the season.  It was incredible to go out every day and hunt for something new.  And the “hunt” was real in every sense.  The land is immense, filled with brush and rocks.  It is incredible to glass, finally find the animals, and then figure out how to stalk them, with no guarantee of seeing them after hours of perseverance.

This magnificent blesbuck is a beautiful plains game trophy and was an incredible hunt on the open plains.

As it turned out, Carl had the perfect plan for a first timer.  I had the opportunity to hunt and harvest bushbuck, blue wildebeest, blesbuck, and zebra before going to the mountains.  In retrospect, I would not have been ready to jump right into the challenge of a free range kudu from day one.   Each hunt provided a unique situation and much-needed experience before heading to the expanse of the Great Karoo.  My advice to a first timer is to allow yourself plenty of time.  There is no guarantee that you will see your preferred specie on any given day … my bushbuck took several mornings and evenings.

The Great Karoo – Big Sky Country and home of incredible Kudu and Gemsbok!

Spotting game is not the hard part, stalking them from over a mile away is a supreme Karoo challenge…

I’m told that South Africa is home to over 47 different species of antelope. But you quickly learn that different species require different habitat.  Since I wanted a gemsbok, we needed to head north, to the dry country where these beautiful animals thrive under harsh conditions. We packed our bags and headed north to experience an entirely new area, and completely different hunting conditions in the mountains. I thought I was fit, but as you can see from the photo, hunting this terrain takes everything you have.

I don’t begin to know how to describe the Great Karoo.  It is immense.  Truly BIG sky country.  The closest thing in the US is probably some of the elk country in the western mountains of the US.   In the Karoo you can literally see for miles … and the PHs often glass and spot the trophies you will hunt well over a mile away.  The stalk can literally take many hours, requiring climbing up and down rocks and valleys.  It is pure fair chase pursuit at its finest.

My PH Louwrence deserves the credit for an incredible stalk that resulted in a monster “pig”.

I did manage to harvest my gemsbok on my last day of hunting the north, along with a fantastic warthog.   Both were worthy hunts requiring long stalks and incredible stealth.  The gemsbok required a long shot of over 450 yards … there was just no other way to get closer across a deep ravine.   The entire camp had to literally pitch in and pack out the gemsbok in quarters.  Amazing teamwork was truly a large part of my safari.  Absolutely nothing went to waste.

There are hunts … and then there is hunting the Grey Ghost.

I was told that kudu are known as the“grey ghost” of Africa, because of their ability to vanish into thin air right before your eyes.  I can now testify how difficult it is to hunt kudu, especially in the Karoo.  While all my hunts were fantastic in their own right, my kudu hunt was literally a two-day long adventure!

I had the opportunity to hunt kudu with Carl, truly a master PH.  Our hunt included incredible spotting, stalking, and crawling to get into position. I literally had to pick cactus out of my backside for days after the hunt!  Then there was the anxiety of waiting for literally an hour to get a shot.   I can’t begin to describe the roller coaster ride of emotions that took place over the course of the hunt, and finally connecting with my bull up in the mountains.

And wow, what tremendous fortune to have Pierre (aka Ozzy) from Got the Shot Productions along to video the hunt!  He is an amazing videographer and athlete carrying the camera gear.   Fortunately, he put together video highlights so that I do not have to begin to try to tell the entire story of the kudu adventure.  I have not seen it yet, so I can’t wait to see the video shared for the first time in this blog.  Ozzy is a great editor, and his video will most assuredly tell the story and bring all the memories flooding back from that incredible day in the mountains.

Suffice to say that I now know why Chris has been on 8 safaris with John X Safaris.  I completed 8 hunts on my first safari, and all of them were uniquely different and exciting.  However, capturing a monster Grey Ghost on his turf in the mountains of the Karoo is simply beyond anything imagined. 

Special thanks to Carl, Louwrence, Ozzy, Clayton and all the amazing John X staff for my incredible experience.  I’ve been bitten, and smitten by the “safari bug”.   The trophies will be so incredible that I have already drawn up plans to build a safari room in my basement.  Now we will have another “slice of Africa” in Nebraska where we can drink fine port and toast the incredible memories with John X Safaris.

The new Safari Addict, Mike

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

If you have ever visited John X Safaris at SCI’s National Convention over the past ten to fifteen years then you may have had the pleasure to meet Brett Nelson. He’s the quiet guy with the big smile, always there, but never wanting to be in the way, while we tend to the many friends who stop by to say hi or book their next adventure. He’s the kind of guy every succesful team needs. Nothing is too much to ask and the word “no” is not part of his vocabulary. He’s that guy you call.. when you only have one call.

He has become such an integral part of our family that he has his very own slot on our calendar each year. During the early season, towards the end of March, when you could just about assure him the summer rains had come and the areas have been undisturbed since the end of the previous season. It’s been like that for as long as we can remember.

Brett is an avid hunter who hates traveling alone. His enjoyment of sharing his piece of paradise with fellow hunters is what gives him great pleasure, while personally after eleven safaris to the East Cape, it would be fair to say the hunting is no longer his number one priority. He’s all about the camaraderie, the fun and laughter along the way, and the experiences with the many friends he has brought along on safari over the years. This year proved to be no exception with a crew made up of old friends returning on their second safari, as well as a few first timers.

Todd Ingstad was back on his second hunt to John X Safaris, teaming up with PH, Martin Neuper, making for a formidable team. Plains game would be the oder of the day, while Todd took his opportunities on a number of fantastic animals.

His Cape Eland would ensure the amazing start we have enjoyed on this specie for 2018 would continue on in style. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen or hunted bulls like this. Todd quite literally made a “pig” of himself with his epic Cape Eland.

This is not your everyday kind of bull. For the Eland connoisseur it will leave you in awe, grasping for both words and air, while at the same time trying to fathom the sheer enormity of this animal. A dream trophy…

For Luther Dietrich it would be a return to his happy hunting grounds. A certain 10″ Vaal Rhebuck on a previous safari with PH, Carl van Zyl, had built a close bond between these two which has taken them on numerous safaris throughout Africa, with the most recent being a Lord Derby Eland in Cameroon.

This year there were many highlights, including an Impala that had us in jitters and a Sable that changed our plans without us even realizing it. It’s not hard to see why we couldn’t pass it up. Then there was the amazing Bushbuck hunt up in the forests of the high ground, and finally…we got our Ostrich. The “bird hunting” just about gave us the slip after a serious run-around for a number of days.

Luther also always adds a fun twist to any safari, this year, adding a Aoudad to his hunt. Most will be amazed to learn there are a number of Aoudad strongholds in the East Cape, most notably being a free-ranging herd of +-500 animals in the Stormberg Mountain range of the East Cape.

The sheep are spread out in groups all over the mountains and it is seldom that one will not see as many as 300 in a morning. They’re everywhere, but hunting them is a major challenge in an outer worldly kind of terrain. Huge rocky outcrops rise up above the lush green valley floors below with some rock ledges extending over a couple of miles without a break in the rock. Professional Hunters, Carl van Zyl and Ed Wilson, did their best to capture both the terrain and scenery as best they could via their PhoneSkope’s, as to give you an idea of the kind of hunt it is. The footage is the best we could muster up between us while trying to hunt these weary mountain dwellers. It’s an experience like few out there…

While Luther was making the most of the mountains, first timers Dan and Kathy Cotter, were embarking on their first hunt to Africa. Dan and PH, Rusty Coetzer, hunted hard from our southern and northern areas, while Kathy enjoyed a day visiting Addo Elephant Park with Trish. It’s been a long time since the ladies have seen so much on a single outing, making for a memorable trip.

For Dan and Rusty it would be early mornings and late evenings as they toiled hard to achieve their goals. Dan’s Warthog most certainly proved to be one of his and our favorites.

As for first timer Jack Cripe or fondly known as the “instigator”, there wouldn’t be much that could stand in the way of this man and fun. Jack epitomized someone who had decided he’d be having the time of his life before he even arrived. It’s rewarding guiding someone in that kind of mood, which intern gave PH, Ross “Stix” Hoole, the opportunity to provide an experience hard to plan, let alone know where next the journey may take one.

It provided Jack with a superb harvest of trophies combined with rewards from sun-up to late in the night each evening. It provided surprises along the way, most notably one of the trophies of the safari.

A beautiful Nyala with width, color and magnificent length.

Jack’s old friend, Scott Fontaine, who had joined us last on safari during 2013, teamed up once again with his PH and partner in crime, Greg Hayes. Scotty and Grego could be referred to as the “naughty kids” of the group, always getting up to mischief with untold amounts of fun along the way! They hunted hard, but they played even harder, in between racking up a superb bag of trophies.

And for the man who put this all together, who gave us the opportunity to share ten wonderful days on safari, the hunting gods came smiling as he took on a few more than usual. Together with PH, Ed Wilson, Brett hunted a superb Scimitar Horned Oryx, an old dark Giraffe bull, Vita-Darted a White Rhino and brought down the largest bird in the world, which Ed kindly reminded us cannot fly and for that reason did not count. No ways Wilson. Anything at 400 yards counts!

BUT the cherry on the cake was Brett’s Bushpig. Finally after having passed up on numerous opportunities over the years, always giving his fellow hunters the first chance at pigs, he committed to the process and Clayton’s unrelenting efforts and got his boar.

And what a pig it turned out to be!

Like we said, there was “some” hunting done by a fun-loving bunch of pranksters who left us grinning from ear to ear with stomach muscles in tatters from all the laughter along the way. They filled their tags with distinction and gave it horns from sun-up to well after midnight each evening. They lived, laughed and hunted, like there was no tomorrow.

And we can’t wait to do it all again come March 2019!

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.

Read Full Post »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

By Cherise Ratliff

In South Africa, I felt freedom from dates and times. That doesn’t happen very often. At least not in my life. Every day is a somewhat predictable juggle of school starting, and work starting, and meetings starting, and school ending, and work ending, and dinner cooking, and bedtime going. On our recent trip, most of the time I had no idea what day it was, how long it was going to take for us to drive somewhere, or what time it was? I can’t tell you how refreshing that was. Our trip to Africa with the Horizon Firearms crew made me feel alive. I can’t decide if it’s sad or just reality that the majority of our lives are lived in a very small space. We drive the same routes, we follow the same schedule, we spend time with the same people, and we do the same things….. day in and day out. When you fly across the world and live life with people WAY outside of that space, something happens inside. Your heart explodes, your mind expands. It’s invigorating and fascinating, and returning to the mundane feels downright depressing. Don’t get me wrong, I missed my little boy with all my heart and couldn’t wait to hug his sweet body, and I missed my bed and my favorite people; however, going on adventures forces me to challenge the way I live and think, and it enhances my desire to plan for bigger and for more! An African safari of a lifetime will do that to you.

In Texas, we drive around on a ranch and get jazzed when spotting a whitetail deer or a hog. Usually the biggest question is how big the antlers were on the buck that was running away or standing in a sendero. With John X Safaris, you drive around and see a Kudu or Nyala or Wildebeest or Warthog or Reedbuck or Zebra or Mongoose or Meerkat or Monkey’s or Blesbuck or Impala or Steenbuck or Baboon or Hartebeest or Jackal or Ostrich or Gemsbuck or Eland or Springbuck or Giraffe or Bushbuck or Duiker … you get my point. “What is that? Did you see that? Look over there. Whoa, look at that thing!”  I believe that God’s creativity, sense of humor, and love for beauty in abundant wildlife is more evident in South Africa than anywhere else I’ve ever been. It is simply stunning.

We all look at life and people through a lens … a lens that has been crafted by our parents, our childhood experiences, our influencers, and the generally accepted ideals and behaviors of the society in which we live. When you travel internationally, you ‘aren’t in Kansas anymore.’ I love asking questions … probably at an annoyingly high rate. Stix and Ozzie thought they were going hunting, not educating a Texan “question-asker” about the history of South Africa, apartheid, Nelson Mandela, current political and cultural climates, the military’s engagement, Dutch and English influences, religious beliefs, racial differences, rugby and rowing, and boarding school (I still can’t get my head around children leaving home at age 5/6 for nine months of the year!). Right, wrong or indifferent, it’s not the same ballgame, and there are things to learn
and people to love all over the world.

Derrick always thanks me for giving stuff a try and having a pretty good attitude about it. I am fairly easily entertained and generally content in most situations. If I had 7 free days, would I choose to hunt during all of those days? Probably not. If I had the opportunity to spend 7 days with Derrick and some amazing new friends while hunting, would I enjoy it? Absolutely.

We took one day off from hunting to go on a photo safari at a nearby game reserve. The John X guys had said that the wives from past trips had gone on the excursion and loved it. It was nice – but it really and truly was JUST like a day hunting. We drove around in a truck looking for animals and got really excited when we found them. We actually saw way more wildlife species hunting with Stix than we did on the photo safari. I don’t think the wives who loved the photographic experience so much realized that they could have had just as much fun going out on the hunt … so ladies, you should try this hunting thing every once in a while. Be open-minded and give it a shot (no pun intended). I may never pull a trigger for the rest of my life, but I still find great joy in seeing Derrick get excited and being a part of the whole experience.

OK so John X Safaris … I have been on many hunts with Derrick throughout our years. We have never, ever been with an outfit like John X Safaris. Having been around the block a few times, I can say with confidence that John X Safaris really and truly is something special. As business owners and leaders, Derrick and I, were observing and analyzing the culture of excellence and family like atmosphere that they have created. Every need or desire was addressed before we even thought about it. From Trish’s pre-hunt correspondence to the arrival at camp. Our glasses were always full; the campfire always received an additional piece of wood when dwindling; a door was always opened for me. The young men who work at John X Safaris have been given some super lesson in style and service, and they were so genuine about it. Clayton even taught me how to Sokkie (African dance similar to our jitterbug) while Ben played the guitar in the “pub” for a couple of hours at the end of the day.

Our beds were turned down in the evenings. Our laundry was done every day. The food was A-mazing … seriously, every meal. Just as much effort went into presentation as taste. Thanks to Lee, Lindiwe, and their kitchen staff, we ate like kings and queens. Ever so thankful to them! I’m so glad Stix pushed us outside of our comfort zone and made us hike a few mountains to help burn some extra calories! The lodge is beautiful – a lovely new construction colonial themed complex centered around original late 1800s “ruins.” The rooms are stunning. The bar is always open. And they help create outings to experience shopping, photo safaris, spa treatments, taxidermist visits, and so much more. John X Safaris creates a destination for the whole family.

Stix was our PH (professional hunter). That’s a real, legit, educated thing over there. Stix is really, really good at what he does. I pretty much coined him Superman. And I can’t really imagine someone being better at what he does while still making every day as fun as he did. Stix is an anomaly of a person — rugged and capable in the world of hunting and wildlife, yet refined and charming in so many ways. He shared his love for Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and opera music, mixed in with some Eminem and Linkin Park. Educated at a high-end boarding school and studied at university to be a finance and accounting mastermind, he can spot a Vaal Rhebok on a mountain a thousand yards away like nobody’s business. He drinks green tea (and suffers much persecution for it from the rest of the PH’s), speaks three languages, kayaks marathons, and was “beaten by his English grandmother if he didn’t use the right knife at dinner.” I entered Derrick and Stix’ second year of friendship, and I hope I get to consider him a friend for life as well. His genuine character and kindness equally matches his ability to estimate a half-inch discrepancy on a Vaal Rhebuck horn from an adjacent mountaintop.

Ozzie – oh Ozzie! We were blessed with the addition of a pretty great cameraman from Got the Shot Productions, the filmmaker partner for John X Safaris. For Horizon Firearms, the video footage from a safari is one of the most valuable takeaways after the hunt is said and done. Real life long-range success helps build credibility and kick off conversations, and the budding partnership between John X Safaris and Horizon Firearms is best expressed through footage of our amazing hunts. Ozzie brought a whole new dimension to “Team Awesome” (as I liked to call us). From random video commentary about Frank the Happy Waterbuck and Samuel the South African Snowman, to serving as backseat iTunes DJ, Ozzie kept us laughing the entire week. His appreciation for beauty, his creative eye, his willingness to go above and beyond in all situations, and his mad drone flying skills have created great anticipation of the video we’ll be receiving at the end of the season. Oh and he’s a trail runner who runs 65K trail marathons to stay fit for packing his camera gear around the mountains – who does that?!

Jimmy, Olwethu, Puie, and Ivan were trackers, which is also a legit thing in South Africa. These fellas had been trained by PH’s to serve as their right hand men. Trackers make almost three times as much money as ranch hands (before tips) so their role is an honorable and coveted job in their culture. These guys are extremely valuable to any given safari. They are REALLY good at spotting wildlife (in our case, really tiny animals far, far away). They are also really good at climbing giant mountains as if they were child’s play. They help recover animals via sight, memory, blood trailing, or literally following vague tracks that were left by the hunted animal. Then they skin like a boss. The whole experience wouldn’t be the same without them, while observing how they live and interact with their world is a fascinating experience on its own. Jimmy is usually Stix’ head tracker, but Jimmy’s son had his “coming out” ceremony the week we were there. This process is the most important time in a young man’s life and occurs in their mid teen years. Apparently, they are beaten by their own tribesmen, sent into the wilderness for 3 weeks to survive, and occasionally visited by various men in their community who impart wisdom. If they survive, they are then circumcised (the old school way), declared a man, and receive a huge celebratory party. True story. So Stix engaged a variety of trackers during our time there.

Have I mentioned the stars yet? Try hanging out in the southern hemisphere in a place far from city lights … the stars will blow your mind. Ozzie stayed up till 2 am one night to capture a time-lapse of the stars for the Horizon Firearms video. I feel like we will be receiving a treasure. Ozzie used the cabin that Derrick and I stayed in as the fixed character in the time-lapse. As we slept, the millions of stars danced above us, moving in a perfect trajectory as the earth rotated on its axis through the night. Oh, and I saw the Southern Cross for the first time while Stix taught us how the sailors used it to find due south. Until the iPhone compass didn’t exactly agree, then we determined that the stars were broken!

When it was all said and done, I left a small piece of my heart in South Africa. I got comfy in my backseat spot in Stix’ truck, and I experienced the highs and lows of the hunt right along with the guys. While in Africa, Derrick kicked off his quest for the Tiny Ten by harvesting a Steenbuck, Klipspringer and Vaal Rhebok. He also added a beautiful Waterbuck, Common Springbuck and Black Springbuck. For the Vaal Rhebok, we journeyed to one of the highest points in the Karoo climbing the Sneeuberge mountain range. For the Klipspringer, we scaled a 1000 foot mountain to get 100 yards closer to the tiny animal. For the Waterbuck, we had a view of the bright blue Indian ocean and gorgeous sand dunes. We got skunked by the Common Duiker and heartbroken by the Mountain Reedbuck. And we enjoyed two gorgeous lodges, the wonder of the stars, lots of campfires and ridiculously good food. Ladies…. go on adventures. Have a great attitude. Meet new people. Ask questions to learn. Sympathize with new cultures. Challenge the norms of your life. Be your man’s best friend. Experience God in a very special way. Make memories and friends that will last a lifetime!

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.

Read Full Post »

Johnny Posey, Eason Maykus, Todd Allen, Darren Vohs and Bruce Heikkinen joined us on safari during late June, right at the peak of the rut. It was great having Johnny back. He has become such a good friend and big supporter over the years, that hosting him with his friends at Woodlands during our opening season was a must for all of us at John X Safaris.

Our hunt would incorporate both our coastal region, hunting in and around Woodlands Safari Estate, as well as a trip to the Great Karoo, before joining the ladies down in Cape Town. Heather, Simone and Elise Allen, together with Sydney Posey, spent a few days with us on safari before heading down the Garden Route to Cape Town.

For first timer Darren Vohs, it would literally be a life-changing experience.

Darren teamed up with Professional Hunter, Lourens Lombard, and tracker Spinach, making for a formidable team. For a first timer Darren had set his sights on a number of “not so first timer” species, but we weren’t complaining. The rut was on and who doesn’t love a challenge when it comes to hunting?

A Kudu is always a top priority for any hunter to Africa, but apart from the elusive grey ghost the guys hunted hard for Gemsbuck, Impala, Nyala, Springbuck, Black Wildebeest, Mountain Reedbuck, Bushpig and Cape Bushbuck.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The broad smiles and images pays tribute to what turned out to be an amazing first trip for Darren, very similar to that of Bruce Heikkinen.

Bruce was a late joiner to our hunt after overhearing Johnny tell a fellow hunting buddy about his upcoming safari to Africa. It kind of summed up Bruce in the way he did things. He goes big or goes home…. When he says he’s here for a good time and not a long time, you better know he means it!

Bruce joined PH, Ross “Stix” Hoole, and tracker, Thando Xolo, for the first half of his hunt before teaming up with Ed Wilson for his last leg of his safari up in the Great Karoo.

A Cape Buffalo, Sable, Eland, Lechwe, Nyala, Waterbuck, Blue and Black Wildebeest, Zebra, Gemsbuck, Kudu, Impala and Bushpig made for a massive hunt. Not knowing much about Bruce up until meeting him on the first day of the safari we all soon learned the man could shoot.

Bruce proved to be not only a great shot, but a lucky hunter too. He however was not the luckiest hunter of all. That tag belonged to none other than Johnny Posey.

If you’ve done your time in Africa, it is said that the rub of the green starts leaning your way more often than not, but on this particular hunt it was more evident than ever before.

If our Sable and Lechwe were the starts PH, Carl van Zyl, and tracker Oluwhethu, were hoping for, then hold your breath for our Tiny 10 quest.

We headed out early one morning from Woodlands, striking a bearing south-east towards the ocean and the coastal forests Blue Duiker inhabit in large numbers along our rugged coastline.

We typically hunt Blue Duiker over Jack Russel Terriers, or make use of blinds over waterholes in the forest. On this particular occasion we opted for the blind option as conditions were dry and the Duiker were drinking regularly.

At times blind hunting can be something of a boring affair, but one thing you can be assured of when it comes to forest blind hunts, is that the bird life is jaw-dropping. The Turacos are particularly striking in both sound and colour.

While peering out of our blind, day dreaming about the various hunts we had shared over the course of the first few days, we noticed through the only hole in the forest, a red coloured animal feeding on the opposite ridge. At first we brushed it aside as a young Bushbuck female, but then our boredom got the better of us and we turned the spotting scope in its direction. And to our amazement we saw it was a Cape Grysbuck feeding in the morning sun. A rare sighting to say the least.

It was too far to tell if it were a male or female, but the opportunity required a closer look. We gathered our gear and made a dash for it. Knowing the Grysbuck would not be feeding out for too much longer we pushed hard, making up the distance between it and us as fast as our legs would carry us. Reaching the pre-determined ridge, we had plotted out previously as a good place to get a shot from, we crested too fast, spooking the Grysbuck in the process. Carl was mad for his silly error, but he had luckily seen it was a fantastic ram before the sly old guy disappeared into the undergrowth. Feeling despondent and ready to give up, knowing our chances were no more than 1/100, Johnny urged us to go on and circle back around.

And 1/100 is the only 1 we needed. This one belonged to Johnny. Through sheer determination we harvested the first ever Cape Grysbuck in daylight. An unheard of feat in the hunting world where Grysbuck are usually totally nocturnal.

With our Grysbuck in the salt and our attitudes in a festive mood we headed back to our Blue Duiker blind. The day was still young and we weren’t about to give up on our original mission.

We had barely sat down for twenty minutes when in wondered this monster from the undergrowth. The hunting gods were smiling on us as much as one could have ever hoped for.

By noon we were heading back to camp to celebrate two of the most difficult critters of the Tiny 10. It turned out to be one of the greatest days we’ve ever experienced in guiding the Tiny 10, and not to mention doing it with Johnny, a more deserving friend than him would be hard to find.

With Johnny smashing records left, right, and centre, Todd was turning his very first African safari into a huge success with PH, Martin Neuper, and tracker Oluwhethu.

Starting off his hunt with a 31’’ Waterbuck set the benchmark high for what was to come.

Todd’s Kudu was the pick of the bulls on the safari, a beautiful animal, hunted for over the course of four days. His Nyala, Cape Eland and Cape Bushbuck wrapped up a spiral slam reeking of quality, while his Sable gave you the feeling of an old warrior.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Todd’s pigs were however the pick for all of us guides. While we all know PH, Martin Neuper, is one of the best guides around, he sure has a knack of pulling the rabbit out of the hat from time to time.

Finding a Bushpig in broad daylight takes luck, actually hunting it successfully takes skill. Then top that off with a boss Warthog in trying drought stricken circumstances, and you’ve got yourself a hunt like few have experienced.

Todd came out tops when it came to pigs on this particular safari!

For Eason Maykus, a fellow first timer from Dallas, Africa provided an experience like he could not have imagined.

The mountains of the north in particular captured his imagination and set the spirit of Africa alive with in him…

Sharing his hunt with Johnny and PH, Carl van Zyl, he thrived in the tough conditions. Loving every step of the way to the top of the mountains. We harvested Waterbuck, Hartebeest, Black Wildebeest and Springbuck. Coming away with bag to be proud of.

Eason’s Gemsbuck took more than your average Gemsbuck, giving us the run around up in the high country. We had spotted the group early on during the course of the morning and we decided to concentrate on two or three individuals that had stood out in the spotting scope at 1500 yards +.

We climbed higher and higher as the day grew on, hoping to surprise the feeding group by coming over at them from above.At one point we had found a second group we had not spotted originally, making for a tricky situation on an already bare mountain. We decided to back off and allow the lay of the land and the feeding Gemsbuck to give us the opportunity we were after.

With patience our opportunity came, and with that an opportunity at a Gemsbuck to remember. Hunted for the hard way, up where the air is thin and the eagles soar, where memories and friendships were made for life. It was an epic hunt.

From the Karoo we headed back south for one last evening of fun at Woodlands, before saying goodbye to Bruce and Darren, while the rest of us, including Trish, joined the girls down in the wine country of the Cape.

We started off our visit to the Cape in Franschoek, a beautiful little town right in the heart of the wine country.

The setting was spectacular…

We spent the next few days exploring some of the well-known wineries, but mostly concentrating on the boutique style smaller vineyards. Both Johnny and Todd enjoy their wine tremendously, which allowed us all to learn a great deal about the various wines with their aging and flavouring processes.

Before we knew it, two days were up and it was time to make the short journey over the Helderberg Mountains to Cape Town. We most certainly weren’t ready to leave the wine country, but the mother city was waiting in all her glory.

By the time our ten days were up we had hunted in some of the most breath-taking areas the East Cape has to offer, the girls had seen the Big 5 and travelled down the picturesque Garden Route, before we all wrapped up a memorable safari in the Cape of Good Hope. It was one of our many highlights from 2017, shared with friends old and new in beautiful sunny South 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

Read Full Post »

For the past 11 years, we at John X Safaris, have become a part of a very special community outside of Salt Lake City, UT. Nestled “just over the hill” from Salt Lake one will find the community of Eagle Mountain. It’s a quiet and peaceful area surrounded by some of the most beautiful mountains in the world. Each January, just after the worst snow storms for the year have hit and turned the mountains into postcard perfect scenes, I stop in for my annual visit with the fine folks who call Eagle Mountain home. I visit to meet interested hunters who have heard from the many others about John X Safaris, but more than anything, I stop in to visit my “family”.

This year proved to be no different from the many before, with the arrival of our Eagle Mountain group, right at the start of the rut in May.

“Bwana” Big Jim Smith headed up the group once again, with his wife, Chris, daughter, Cari, and friend, Mandy, joining him on this special occasion. Jim to date had hunted a number of our plains game species, but had never looked at a Cape Buffalo until this past January. Professional Hunter, Greg Hayes, put in some serious leg work prior to Jim’s arrival, ensuring he had a full proof plan for the sneaky Cape Buffalo who roam the valleys and hills of Woodlands.

The plan was for the hunters to head out at first light each morning – Heading to the high points to glass for the weary “Dugga” boys as they fed out into the first morning rays.

Cari, Jim’s daughter, a serious hunter in her own right, tagged along on these early morning expeditions, making the most of oppurtunities along the way as the men continued their search for the perfect Cape Buffalo.

She had planned for a Kudu, Zebra, and a Blue Wildebeest, but came away with a few more than the initial wish list. Her Kudu was an especially rewarding one, as it was a gift from the team a few years ago when Cari was battling cancer. Our deal with Cari at the time was quite simple. Get up, get motivated, and beat the cancer! Get to Africa and choose what you’d like to hunt.

She beat cancer and chose her Kudu!

As for Big Jim, the hours of searching grew into days, but the excitement never stopped as the hunt built and built each day. Getting ever closer to a bull of Jim’s dreams.

The excitement at times was unbearable….

Then on day five it all came together. The quiet moments of frustration listing to Buffalo crashing through the undergrowth of the valley thickets as the wind shifted were suddenly all worth it. The excitement, the anxiety, and the years of dreaming, culminated into a moment that Big Jim will surely never forget.

A more deserving man than Bwana Big Jim I do not know. A bull like few….

All this time, Jim’s wife, Chris, asked for very little. She enjoyed quiet days on the verandah at the Manor playing Granny to her “African” grandkids with untold amounts of candy and kindness each day. She did however want a Copper Springbuck to complete Jim’s slam.

Jim dully did so…

And then ticked off a massive bucket list dream of his own..

A proper Cape Bushbuck to end off one memorable family hunt.

With Big Jim enjoying his hunt to the utmost, we welcomed first timers Bill and Nancy Jones. They teamed up with Professional Hunter, Rusty Coetzer, and tracker, Ou John, for their first taste of Africa.

The hunting party hunted on the coast for a day before heading to our northern camp up in the Great Karoo. Bill proved to be a great shot with numerous tough setups and shots earning him a fine reputation amongst the PH’s. From the Karoo the team headed back to Woodlands Safari Estate hunting both Black and Blue Wildebeest in the area with Nancy joining the fun each day.

Bill would come in each evening telling us how much fun he had, but also expressed how much he’d like to hunt a great old Warthog. He had come to Africa to find that big old boar, and headed out determined each day. The hunt was starting to come to an end, and we’d be lying if we were to say we weren’t getting nervous. Rusty and Ou John did all they could, heading out that last day to what Rusty likes to call “Hog heaven”. It was now or never.

A rain storm had hit that morning, but the guys kept at it. Conditions were terrible for the most part of the day, but in the end they did it. Bill was the happiest man in camp that evening – He had his pig!

Bill and Nancy’s son and daughter-in-law, Bob and Janelle, were out on safari with the group too, teaming up with PH, Martin Neuper, and tracker, Oluwhethu. Bob started out slow, enduring a few rough days before getting going with the adventure of a lifetime. From the plains and hills of the Karoo and finally onto the coast, Bob and Janelle hunted hard for a bag to be proud of.

Together they harvested some of the best trophies on the safari, but nothing could prepare one for Bob’s huge Gemsbuck bull or Janelle’s Cape Bushbuck.

What a bull in a setting and view hard to beat..

And a Bushbuck ram guided by the “Bushbuck King”, Martin Neuper. Most probably one of the trophies of the season.

With this group it wasn’t hard to see folks having fun, but few people I know, know how to enjoy themselves as much as Larry and Claudia Fullmer. Days with Larry are filled with a grin from ear to ear. He never stops smiling from the minute the plane touches down in Africa. He is without a doubt one of the most enjoyable hunters to have in camp, reminding one daily how good we have it.

Claudia is never far from Larry’s side, making the two one fun couple in camp.

This was Larry and Claudia’s second hunt with John X Safaris, with an Nyala and Warthog being the priority species of interest. The match with PH, Lourens Lombard, was one made in heaven, as the crew got on like a house on fire from day one. By the end of day two I was certain Lourens would be an adopted son by the end of the safari as the hunting started off with a bang!

By day five Larry told me he had already claimed Lourens as his South African son, so I may have gotten that wrong by a couple of days, but what I did get right was team Larry up with the PH that had a plan for a big Warthog. Larry’s dream coming to Africa.

A big Warthog is an extremely challenging trophy to hunt. A pig takes long to mature, and with the years in age, comes serious experience of how to evade the ever keen hunters hoping to harvest a big boar. Even IF you know of a big pig frequenting a certain area, it seldom means that important slice of information will convert into a successful hunt. It takes luck, luck, luck, luck … and some more good luck.

This team it seems had it all!

After the hunt while enjoying the view from our verandah Larry shared this video with me. It’s just too good not to share.. Enjoy the running commentary as Larry approaches his downed monster. It’s moments like this that makes our job the pleasure it is.

With a group such as this and the atmosphere around camp it would be hard to see anyone not having the time of their lives. Jarred Wallace, our friend from a number of previous safaris, did the gentlemanly thing, offering to stay home to watch the rest of the kids, while his wife, Kim, and daughter Savanna, joined us for the very first time. Kim had hunted in Africa before, but never with us at John X Safaris.

They joined PH, Ross “Stix” Hoole and tracker, Thandu Xolo, for a ladies only affair.

For Savanna it was to be a hunt for the ages. Watching her getting ready for the day ahead each morning, and seeing her excitement as the anticipation of the days hunt dawned on her, made it a joy to observe. As for Kim, something tells us we’ll be seeing plenty more of her the next time Jarred heads back to Africa.

With everybody taken care of, and each team going about their days the John X way, I got going on a special hunt guiding two dear friends of ours, Brett and Shellie Wright. The three of us have always teamed up over the years, making for numerous great memories along the way. In time our relationship has become one where Brett gives me an idea of what he’d like to pursue, but left everything else in my hands. What he hunts seldom matters to him, it’s all about time together in the field making memories enjoying one another’s company.

This year I wanted to share our new home Woodlands with them, unbeknown to me that Woodlands was planning on sharing something special with us. With scenery, wildlife, reserve life and our first big thunderstorm making for a memorable safari…

Of course we hunted somewhat too… Lechwe, Common Duiker, Steenbuck, Blue Duiker, Impala, Waterbuck, and Brett’s special Bushpig with Clayton.

But so much of this hunt and the planning that went with it involved Brett’s wife, Shellie. Brett had expressed a desire for Shellie to hunt her dream trophy, a Sable, but it had to be a surprise and a gift for Mothers Day.

Two years in the making, BUT WOW was it worth it! Awesome bull Shell’s!

While Brett was planning the Sable surprise for Shellie, I was planning to redeem myself after we came up short on a Kudu on our previous safari together. With the Sable in the salt I turned our focus squarely onto Kudu. We glassed hard, saw a number of great bulls, but couldn’t get onto any of them on our first afternoon out for Kudu.

A couple of days later, still in search of a Kudu, we spotted a good-looking bull more than a mile off. We started a long stalk down a gradual valley bumping into a lone Dugga Boy Cape Buffalo along the way, which made for an exciting moment or two. At 367 yards we came out of a draw and with no more further cover, I edged over to Shellie and set her up for what was going to be a challenging shot.

To find the bull in her scope was going to be the first challenge, and then finding the optimum moment of a clear shoulder through the undergrowth would surely make it as a difficult setup as I could have thought of. Just as I was about to tell Shellie to let him walk, she whispered; “Can I take him?” I looked at her for a split second, suddenly realizing this was the most focused and relaxed I’d ever seen her behind the rifle, I turned to the bull with my Leica 10×42’s and told her to take him.

Shellie squeezed off the most epic shot! The bull barely made it 20 yards before piling up in a Spekboom (Bacon Tree).

As a young man I was privileged to guide a group of hunters from Eagle Mountain, and ever since then I’ve been taken in as one of their own. It has been a journey of friendships built around numerous experiences shared on safaris over the years, and ones that I will always cherish and appreciate beyond what words can describe.

You all know who you are, you were all there for me, my family, and my team. This year, with the opening of Woodlands, it was more important than ever to share our new home with you, after all, you all now know you have a home in Africa. Thank you. I’ll see you in January!

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.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: