I recently returned to the UK from a trip to South Africa visiting family. Several months before our family trip my dad and I had the normal email conversation about what to hunt and where whilst out in Africa. We then settled on an eland being first prize and kudu second – and if I had time a warthog as well, as my parents own a guest lodge (near where the last battle of the 1879 Zulu war was fought and near were the valley were the Zulu kings of old are buried) and they wanted some venison for the lodge. We decided on the Northern Drakensburg area. Dad, after some research found an outfitter. Much to my delight when we booked the hunt we found out that all the animals would be free range as there were no game fences, so this was going to be a real challenge as they could be anywhere! One of the two farms we were going to hunt backed onto the site of the battle of Spion Kop, which was fought between the Boers and British on 23-24 January 1900, and being interested in history this was a fantastic setting. We booked a three-day hunt; what an incredible three days it would turn out to be!
The great day dawned and we had packed our kit in the car and we were off. After a slow four hours to Winterton from Ulundi (we also visited friends and family on the way) we finally arrived at our self-catering chalets, met Todd and unpacked; I then noticed the incredible view of the Northern Drakensberg. It was then time to sight in my trusty old 30-06 Mauser which I had last used nearly two years ago on an impala and warthog hunt. After four shots with it was like we had never been apart. We then returned to our accommodation and agreed that Todd would collect us at 0530, as the farm we were going to hunt on was about 20 mins drive away.
We arrived on the farm to be told by the farmer that he had seen a herd of eland the night before but he had not seen them that morning. We then arrived at the hunting area and almost straight away we glassed a small herd of zebra out on some open grassland with a few scrub trees dotted around – not far off was a herd of about 30 eland out in the open. The hunt was on!
After planning the stalk we left my dad and Enoch (Todd’s apprentice) at a vantage point so if the herd moved on they could give us directions to where they had gone. We were able to get within a reasonable distance of the herd using cover and then it was time to leopard crawl the last 20m or so to get a clear shot. After scanning the herd a decent cow was selected, after checking that there were no calves in the herd. She then stopped walking and looked in our direction. I was using 180gr PMP factory ammo, and squeezed the trigger and heard a resounding thwack. At the same time the cow jumped about 8ft into the air and then trotted off behind another cow. After about a minute she lay down and kicked a few times; it was over, I had shot my first eland at about 230m. Todd shook my hand. In the meantime, the herd had come back to sniff the dead animal, as they had no idea what had just happened.
Then the unexpected happened, when Todd said ‘How would you like to shoot another eland?’ He needed venison for his personal use, and was happy for me to shoot it, as long as he selected the animal (how often does that happen?!). He then selected a cow with a broken horn. She was standing about 250m away so I then aimed slightly higher and sent the 180gr on its way. The eland’s front legs folded as if poleaxed and she gave a few kicks and that was the end. The rest of the herd milled around for a couple of minutes and I could have taken a third if I had wanted to. The herd then disappeared over the crest. Todd once again shook my hand as it turned out both shots had hit the heart. Todd went to collect the vehicle as well as dad and Enoch to help recover the carcasses. I later heard that it was unusual for the herds to stick around after the first shot never mind the second, and what happened next was even more surprising. Todd had been gone for less than 5mins when I heard a “click click” – the herd had come back and was grazing less than 75m from where I was sitting! They only ran off once I stood up and showed myself – a memory I’ll never forget. Both carcasses were gralloched, loaded and taken to a local butcher. We were back at our accommodation by about 10am and relaxed for the rest of the day.
After discussing the rest of the hunt with dad we change our minds to try for a kudu bull instead of a warthog, as it made more sense for the lodge if I hunted a kudu bull (more meat!) and as we had another two days to hunt that were already paid for; we then informed Todd of our decision. All of us thought that I would have to work really hard to get a kudu bull as the hunting gods don’t always look favourably on you twice in two days! How wrong we were.
The next after being picked up at the same time, once again we were off to the same farm. We dropped Enoch off to keep an eye on a valley that held a few kudu bulls and we went off to the next. It was not long after that when we glassed a cow lying down about 100m away but seemingly totally comfortable with us being there, which was great as it showed that the animals were not under great pressure. Soon afterwards we glassed a kudu bull and the hunt was on once more.
After discussing the best way to approach the kudu, as it was a rather large herd, we got to about 250m of the bull. I only wanted a “biltong” bull and not a trophy – Todd had a good look at the animal and although it was a really good bull I was given the ok to take it. However I had a choice of a really difficult frontal shot or to wait for an easier broadside shot. I had time to discuss this with Todd and it was decided with no pressure from Todd that as soon as it presented a broadside shot I would take it. After a frustrating 15 mins it turned directly away us and walked away before it suddenly turned broadside and stopped. I had my chance and sent the 180gr PMP bullet in its direction and once again we heard the solid thwack. The bull took off at a speed and I reloaded, expecting the worst but feeling really good about the shot. The bull ran for about 120m towards us and then collapsed with another good heart shot. The time was only 9am after we had dropped the carcass off at the butcher – things could not get any better, or so I thought. I had heard that the Natal scaley, also known as the Natal yellowfish, was a good fighter pound for pound and rather difficult to catch on fly as they are normally fished like carp in the UK but within 45 miutes I had caught two on fly, and although they weighed less than a pound each they fought like Trojans. I was really impressed as it was really dry and they didn’t have much water to swim in. If I intended to get a South African MacNab this was my chance, but I had not booked or asked for any type of bird shoot. Next time I’ll make sure!
The next day it was warthog time! Todd picked us up at the agreed time, but we saw no hogs during the morning session and the hard work was starting. What made the stalk that morning to me was watching a kudu herd including a bull who were watching us as we passed by about 50m away. Todd waved his arms and the herd only trotted a short distance away and not even an alarm bark as you would expect on an area that they were hunted on. We then called it a morning.
That afternoon we were out again and we found a hog, but the only problem was that it was feeding in a middle of a cattle herd! Todd and I devised a plan and after about 45 mins of stalking around the bush and dongas we found that the swine had disappeared into some long grass and the light had started to fade. But once again my experience was not to end on a disappointing note. On the way back to the vehicle we bumped into the same herd of kudu, which looked at us indignantly, as if we were trespassing. Not long afterwards we bumped into a really good common reedbuck buck, which I could have “clubbed” to death as it stood about 15m away from us, whistling an alarm call but not sure what to do. It was an amazing experience and many thanks to Todd and his team for all their efforts.
(for some reason I cant upload any photos)